The Dating Game
Redrafting the schedule will be a headache
Matt Winick, the NBA's vice president for scheduling and game
operations, already knows his fate should the lockout end before
the entire season is lost and he has to hurriedly produce a
revised schedule. "I fully expect 29 teams to be very unhappy
with me," he says.
While Winick was awaiting word from the labor front--at week's
end the owners and players seemed to be slowly moving toward an
agreement--he was drawing up potential schedules for
commissioner David Stern's consideration. One would simply pick
up the previously announced schedule on whatever date play
begins. Another would extend the regular season past its usual
conclusion in late April. Still another would plug in additional
games, according to the availability of NBA arenas. "It's fair
to say whatever schedule I do won't look like a normal
schedule," Winick says.
One scheduling truth is already self-evident: Division rivals
usually play one another four times in a season, with two home
games apiece. Scratch that. "It's not a high priority," says
Winick. In fact, his only clear priorities are to make sure all
teams play the same number of games and the same number of home
Here's something else to chew on while you await your refund
check for canceled November games: If Michael Jordan decides to
play one more season for the Bulls, it is highly unlikely that
Chicago will make it to every NBA arena on his farewell tour.
Among the games already canceled are those on a Bulls Western
swing that would have seen Chicago play against the Jazz, the
Suns and the Clippers. In a shortened season, Winick says, that
leg of the trip will be virtually impossible to reschedule.
An adjusted schedule also may place added burdens on several
teams. Example: For years the Celtics have played back-to-back
games several times in November. Those Boston fans breathing a
sigh of relief that the Celtics have escaped those back-to-backs
this year should think again. One of Winick's scenarios would
have Boston and other teams playing back-to-back-to-back games,
a practice the league has avoided even though it has not been
prohibited in the collective bargaining agreement.
Winick emphasizes, though, that adding games to the schedule in
midseason wouldn't be all that onerous. On average NBA teams
play 3.4 games a week. After the lockout, clubs could be looking
at four or five a week. "But the difference between an average
of 3.4 games and four games is one additional game every two
weeks," Winick says.
At week's end many players were surmising that Christmas, which
happens to be the day NBC is scheduled to televise its first
game, will be the starting point for the abbreviated 1998-99
season. But what would that mean for the All-Star Game,
scheduled for Philadelphia on Feb. 14? Would the league put on
its supposed midseason showcase less than eight weeks into a
season? "I'm asking that question every week," says 76ers
president Pat Croce. "We got this whole city juiced up for this
thing, and now I've got hotels who helped us land All-Star
Weekend calling me and wanting some assurances. For now, there's
still a game. But if this thing drags on into January, I don't
see how there can be."
As the Bulls Turn...and Turn
With the NBA lockout dragging on past Halloween, the most
compelling question (aside from When will play begin?) remained:
Will Jordan and Scottie Pippen return to the Bulls? Almost as
compelling is the question of how their decisions will affect
the rest of the Chicago roster. The Bulls have only four players
under contract--two regulars, guard Ron Harper and swingman Toni
Kukoc, and two reserves, Randy Brown and Keith Booth.
That leaves top rebounder Dennis Rodman, starting center Luc
Longley, sharpshooter Steve Kerr, defensive swingman Scott
Burrell, backup center Bill Wennington and forward-guard Jud
Buechler in limbo. Chicago chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said two
years ago that when it was time to break up the dynasty, "you
won't see too many faces left from that championship team."
Count Kerr among those who got the message. "It's pretty obvious
to me," he says. "If Michael and Scottie are back, I'm back. If
they're not, I'm gone."
Kerr sat shoulder to shoulder with his All-Star teammates, who
were among the players gathered in New York City to witness the
labor negotiations last week, but he wasn't tempted to sway
their decisions. "I leave them alone," he says. "They've given
me three rings. That's more than I could have asked for."
Jordan says he will announce his intentions when the lockout is
over, although the buzz among the players in New York was that
he was leaning toward retiring. Pippen, who's expected to be
hotly pursued by the Rockets and the Suns, says he's waiting to
see how a new agreement will alter the rules of free agency.
When asked in New York if a return to Chicago was out of the
question, Pippen answered, "I'm not leaning either way right
now." He might have provided a window to his thoughts, however,
when he was asked if this season's Bulls would look more like a
70-win team or a 30-win team. "I'd bet on 30," he responded.
Some top free agents who were in New York expressed reservations
about considering Chicago as their destination until Jordan
decides. Said one, "He's the attraction." Harper has heard this,
too, and says his concerns about the Bulls' future are all too
familiar. "You've got to remember, I played for the Clippers,"
he says, "I already know how to lose."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Pippen, who's coyly keeping his options open, could cause a housecleaning in Chicago. [Scottie Pippen leaping with basketball over Bryon Russell]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Disillusioned by his stint in L.A., Fox might look to play elsewhere this season, if there is one. [Rick Fox passing basketball around Jerome Kersey]
Around The Rim
Word is that the Clippers will hold off until after the lockout
ends to announce their coach, thereby banking his salary until
then. L.A. has narrowed the field to three: Chris Ford, recently
let go by the Bucks; Eddie Jordan, recently let go by the Kings;
and Jim Brewer, a Clippers assistant under the fired Bill
So who gets walloped in the wallet the worst during this
lockout? Our nomination: veteran Raptors forward Charles Oakley,
who was set to be rewarded for his blue-collar efforts with a
$10 million balloon payment this season. As each game is
canceled, more of that payoff dribbles away....
Bucks guard Ray Allen's most frustrating lockout moment was
playing in a charity golf tournament with his new coach, George
Karl, and not being able to talk to him....
Free agent Rick Fox, who passed up guaranteed millions from the
Cavaliers to play for $1 million with the Lakers last season,
said he will monitor free-agency rules changes before deciding
where to sign. It's clear, however, that his experience in L.A.
was less than ideal. "When I went there, I believed we could win
it all," says Fox, "but some group dynamics changed, and egos
got involved, and we were dealing with so many young players.
When you fall short after making such a big sacrifice, it leaves
you feeling empty."