Probably for the first time in 13 years, NBA players, coaches and executives face a time when there is so much confusion surrounding comfort. Owners and players reached a tentative agreement over the weekend that will allow teams to hold training camps and free agent signings beginning Dec. 9 and kick off a 66-game game season on Christmas.
But until the players reconstitute their union, dismiss their antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, finish the final details of a new collective bargaining agreement with the league and a majority of players and owners accept the deal, the lockout remains in effect.
A person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the litigation said Monday that the lawsuit settlement and union re-formation likely won’t occur until the middle of this week or later.
“There is a lot of work to be done in a lot of places, with a lot of committees and player groups. . . but we are optimistic that it will hold and we will have ourselves an NBA season,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said last Saturday.
Uncertainty abounds, as it did in 1999, when the league had less than a month to stage a 50-game season because of another owner-imposed lockout. Teams don’t know how long training camps or preseason will be, but the league is telling teams that they will have two regionally based preseason games against the same opponent. In 1999, the Wizards played a home and home preseason series against Philadelphia. Teams remain in the dark about the schedule that they will play once the season begins. As it stands, only the six teams scheduled to play on Dec. 25 know where their seasons will begin.
But with an unofficial deadline approaching, players and coaching staffs can’t sit idly by until the final terms are resolved. Wizards Coach Flip Saunders and the rest of his coaching staff — Randy Wittman, Don Zierden, Sam Cassell, Gene Banks and Ryan Saunders — are scheduled to meet at the practice facility at Verizon Center on Tuesday. They will map out the game plan for a shortened season and a possibly condensed training camp. The group has come together to watch film and discuss strategy several times during this protracted offseason, and Saunders has also had individual meetings with each one of his assistant coaches.
Players still don’t have access to team training facilities, so they remain on their own as it relates to working out and getting in basketball shape. Former Wizard Roger Mason Jr. and local trainer Joe Connelly organized a mini-training camp this week at Capital Sports Complex in District Heights.
Mason has invited several players, including the Wizards’ John Wall, Andray Blatche and Hamady Ndiaye, former Wizards Brendan Haywood and Jared Jeffries, and Baltimore natives Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal. They are expected to trickle in throughout the week. The next two weeks could be wild and become more intriguing if the pool of free agent talent is deepened from players waived through an amnesty clause that allows team to waive someone currently under contract and have their contract removed from the salary cap.
“It’s going to be crazy. You saw what happened with football [after the NFL lockout],” Mason said. “It should be a frenzy, but I think it’ll be good for our league.”
Though the NBA likely won’t release its new schedule until early next week, the league released a general breakdown of what should be a grueling pace that matches the nearly four games per week that were played in 1999.
With the league still planning to have a four-day All-Star Weekend in Orlando, teams will have to squeeze in all their games in the span of 119 days, meaning that each team will have at least one stretch in which it plays three nights in a row. They won’t have more than three back-to-back-to-back sets.
The regular season will end a week later than usual on April 26 and the Finals could end on June 26 — just two days before the draft.
The Wizards will play 48 of their 66 games against Eastern Conference teams and 18 games against Western Conference teams. They will play only three teams from the other conference twice (one at home, one away) and six other teams at home and the six other teams on the road. They will also play six teams in the conference four times, four teams three times (two at home, one away) and the four other teams three times (once at home, two away).
The first 25 games on the Wizards’ schedule have been wiped out, leaving them with 57 dates set for games and nine games likely to get plugged in for any available gaps.
With so much of the schedule depending on arena availability — and Wizards among several teams that share a building with an NHL team — the league likely won’t deviate much from the dates already in place, but the teams may change.