Rush for Christmas start leaves NBA in disarray

By Brian Mahoney

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard, center, answers questions from reporters during the team's NBA basketball media day, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, in Orlando, Fla.

John Raoux, Associated Press

The lockout ended, and the NBA's woes were just beginning. Dwight Howard asked to be traded. Chris Paul was dealt to the Lakers, it seemed, until the league decided he wasn't. So the Lakers made another trade, which Kobe Bryant hated.

"Nobody's happy," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said.

He was referring to feelings about terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, which in some ways are so similar to the old ones that it's fair to wonder exactly what was the point of the five-month lockout.

But he might as well have been talking about the superstars who want new homes, the critics blistering Commissioner David Stern for forcing one to stay put, or team officials charged with having clubs ready to play by Christmas under bizarre circumstances.

"It's just too bad, it really is. It's not reflective right now of the great product we had, you know?" former coach and ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. "It's one thing to have a summer and fall of strife due to labor negotiations. It's another to be seen as an organization that's in disarray once you settle that."

Van Gundy blames money, the natural place to start. Owners will save plenty by getting players to agree to a 12 percent reduction in salary costs in the new deal. But in doing so in time to salvage a substantial season, they conceded on many issues that were necessary to create the competitive balance they said they craved.

So Paul and Howard are trying to force their way from small markets to big, just as Carmelo Anthony did last year, and there's no guaranteed mechanism to stop them.

But at least everyone was home for Halloween.

"Just like the regular fan out there, just like you guys, you do wonder why stuff happened. You look at it and say, 'Why did the lockout happen?'" Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. "I don't see it helping right now. Maybe in a few years we'll all look back and see why this lockout happened. But right now it's not showing its face at all. ... The competitive balance thing was a pie-in-the-sky. We knew that was impossible, in a sense, especially when you've got players willing to take less money to be happy."

That's what Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh did so they could team up last summer. Owners could have attempted to block future superteam building with a hard salary cap or franchise tag designations that exist in the NFL, but the players fought those changes in an effort to keep a system that looked like the old one, giving teams the ability to exceed the cap by quite a bit if they were willing to pay a luxury tax.

The tentative deal on the main issues wasn't reached until Nov. 26, and Stern said the regular season would begin on Christmas if the deal was ratified in time. But it meant free agency opened the same day as training camps, forcing some teams to report with barely enough players for a starting five while their transactions awaited approval by the league office.

"It's an arbitrary date to have to start on Christmas. There's no magical starting time. Just push it back. Let them have a normal free-agent period of a week, 10 days, then have two to three weeks of training camp with a few exhibition games. Let them do what they should do and then start whenever that date is," Van Gundy said. "Skip steps, I don't see how that's helpful, other than it's helpful to the pocketbook. I think sometimes we sacrifice too many times the product for the pocketbook."

Van Gundy recalled something he once heard from Daryl Morey, the Rockets' general manager who thought he was getting Pau Gasol from the Lakers in the killed three-team trade.

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