In 1999, the NBA season started exactly one month after a deal was reached, with teams squeezing 50 games in to a three month abbreviated schedule. So far only the first two weeks of this coming season have been canceled — and despite 16 hour negotiation sessions Stern and Hunter will not be shaking each other’s hands today or tomorrow — but it appears there’s no way a revamped schedule will start prior to December.
Lucky for us, there are rumors that an 82 game schedule starting December 1 exists somewhere on the computer of Matt Winick, the man who’s been plotting the NBA season for over 25 years. Some would say, “Just push the schedule back a month,” meaning we would be watching the NBA Finals in July. But as the Los Angeles Times reported, it will basically be impossible for the Staples Center to hold Finals games past the current drop dead date of June 21. As we all know, the Clippers will be the Western Conference champions, so pushing back the schedule is out.
This will likely be the case in arenas throughout the league since they were free to book anything and everything — Nick Carter, anyone? — beyond June 21. As part of the standard scheduling process, arenas are required to send the league a certain number of available dates from November to April in order for the scheduler to arrange 41 home games.
Now, Winick (if he still has the job) has already compiled the sched based on dates he’s received, but assuming teams will have their entire November schedule wiped out, he’ll have to make up anywhere from 13 to 17 games for each organization in order to play the full 82. Since the league is probably going to have to stick with that June 21 drop dead date, and even if there are less days off during the playoffs than the drawn out scheds of years past, Winick will have to squeeze in an additional three to to four games per month to hit the mark of 82 money makers.
Teams have an average of 15 off days a month, so you’re probably thinking, “Oh, scheduling three to four more games will be easy!” But it won’t. Arenas may have lined up other events in the open dates they sent to the league, and trying to coordinate a free date for two teams on the same day will be hellish. For example, dropping in a game on the off day of a three-games-in-four nights or four-games-in-five-nights stretch won’t work. But if 82 is going to happen, we may see the vaunted back-to-back-to-back we saw play out in ’99. That’s something which will have to be approved by the Player’s Association in negotiations — Derek Fisher’s gonna love playing three nights in a row — but it will still be easier to keep the current schedule locked and work around those bookings rather than scrap and revamp the entire slate.
At the same time, this would definitely be the preferred route for the league. As we can see, maximizing dollars is quite the necessity. If that means raising the maximum of 23 back-to-backs per season or playing the occasional three games in three nights, so be it. Oh Grizzlies, you gotta play Saturday night in Los Angeles, then fly to Toronto for an afternoon tilt the next day? David Stern does not care.