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 games.
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, mat 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 AU-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 AU-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.