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Shaun Powell

Vaporizing preseason only creates new issues to address now


Posted Oct 5 2011 9:24AM

What, October gone already? Whatever happened to optimistic talk from every camp and every team, even the Cleveland Cavaliers? Preseason games in Sheboygan? Media days? Two-a-days? Picture day?

All we're left with is May-day. We could say October never happened, because none of the above will happen. The month was just whacked, and the only good news is at least Halloween was spared.

Now that it's official, October will belong exclusively to the World Series and Saturday afternoons at State U. Nothing more. Traditionally, for the NBA, October is the month of preparation, a month that's less about pumpkins and more about Cinderellas. A month the league uses to generate buzz about the upcoming season, a month when every team thinks it has a chance even if realistically most don't.

And now, we can't be completely sure there will be a season, or at least one that starts on time.

So what does this erasure of October mean?

Urgency: It's not like the owners and players union have been sitting around doing nothing the last few weeks, but the intensity to make a deal will only rise -- or should, anyway -- with the season on the brink. At some point, one side has to blink at the negotiating table. There will be pressure from within both groups to make concessions; problem is, when will that "pressure" result in constructive talks and a settlement? This much, we know: Eventually, the owners will win. It happens in every labor negotiation in every league. It's sort of like buying a car. After all the back-and-forth, the dealership will come out ahead; it's just a matter of how much. In labor rights, always remember the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, rules.

Public relations hit: It won't be as severe as you think. Maybe the best thing for the NBA is that the media and general public are too consumed with baseball's playoffs and football (both college and NFL) to notice a lost October. Sometimes, being anonymous is actually good, and this is one of those rare occasions. The backlash will be minimized, unless the lockout creeps toward the holidays. Then it gets dangerous. A fair segment of the public wasn't big on preseason basketball to begin with, so the NBA remains on solid ground right now. But a league can never take its audience's patience for granted, particularly in a down economy and especially with a casual audience that has other entertainment choices.

(Potential) schedule madness: It's safe to assume the NBA is putting contingency plans in place, in case the October lockout spills into November and the first two weeks of the season are canceled. That's a tough situation, trying to make sure all teams play an equal number of games and also get their required fill of conference opponents. Plus, the dates can't conflict with non-basketball events that were planned in arenas well in advance. Finally, attractive TV games must be highlighted to satisfy the networks. All of this frantic reworking is not a job for the faint of heart.

Nervous times for team, league and arena personnel: The ushers, ticket-takers, concessionaires and security folks who normally are shaking the cobwebs from their uniforms are now just shaking, period. Their work schedule for October was already compromised when the league announced the first wave of preseason cancellations. Now the rest of October was just nixed, and unless a near-miracle happens before Monday, maybe the first two weeks of the season are gone, too. That's the tough part about high stakes labor discussions: the unintended targets are the first to absorb a hit. A good many players can afford to go without a few paychecks. What about the arena worker making barely above minimum wage who has a family to feed? You should sympathize with him a lot more than you would most players.

And then there's team and league personnel. Office workers, ticket salespeople, administrators, basketball staff -- nobody is completely immune if the lockout goes beyond October. It's hard to imagine a number of layoffs, if any, simply because the teams and the NBA already prepared for the worst. Still, in this climate, anything's possible.

Free agency: No movement, obviously, meaning a handful of players still don't know where they'll be when the season begins. The NBA will need a few weeks to go through the free-agent process, which was doable in October without affecting the start of the season. Now? Not so much.

Filling the grid: If you think your job is hard, try being a producer at NBA TV, the prime source for all things NBA. Try finding enough programming to fit a 24-hour schedule and capture an audience. It's been that kind of summer since the Mavericks raised the trophy.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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