Lockout looming

As the NBA playoffs roll on, enjoy them. Soak up all the professional basketball goodness while you can. Because come late fall arenas around the country may be silent. The NBA is facing a lockout if team owners and players cannot agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.

This would kill the NBA’s newfound popularity. The momentum of these exciting playoffs would be sapped and wasted. Fans would once again be turned off by players and owners and their lust for money. Does anyone even remember the NHL at this point?

A lockout to start next season would be even more damaging than the lockout that shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games. A trip to the Western Conference finals for the Blazers rekindled fan interest in the Portland area, but other teams would soon have to relocate.

Fan bases in Vancouver, B.C., and Charlotte, N.C., dried up, prompting the Grizzlies to move to Memphis and the Hornets to relocate to New Orleans. Only last season did professional basketball return to Charlotte, in the form of the expansion Bobcats and Rookie of the Year Emeka Okafor.

Even though the Bobcats surpassed everyone’s expectations by winning 18 games, their very existence highlights one of the huge problems in the NBA. The problem is a simple lack of enough talent to go around, though the NBA seems bent on expanding at the moment. There are 30 NBA teams, yet there are only really about four or five teams that can compete each year.

That’s because there are only 20 or so marquee players in the NBA, and many of them are on the same team. Pairings such as Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal of the Miami Heat, or League MVP Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire of the Suns give those types of teams overwhelming advantages.

With no true farm system (the fledgling NBDL doesn’t count yet) and a constricting free agent system with guaranteed contracts of up to seven years it can be a struggle for bad teams to resurrect their franchises. Look no further than the Blazers to see the result of a team that didn’t plan for its future.

The signings of washed up players like Nick Van Exel and head cases such as Darius Miles to long deals has roped the Blazers into a nightmare situation that team management is already finding difficult to extricate itself from. Young players such as Sebastian Telfair haven’t been slowly brought along in a series of farm teams until they are ready. Telfair, along with Travis Outlaw and Viktor Khryapa were simply shoved onto the court and told to produce. Portlanders saw the results, namely the firing of Mo Cheeks, a 27-55 record and the likely number five pick in the NBA draft.

The guaranteed contracts, the bad player behavior – these are the types of problems the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and team owners are clashing over. Team owners want control of players, and the way to do that in their minds is to shorten contract lengths and take away guaranteed money.

The NBPA has balked at those ideas. A proposal for a minimum age requirement of 20 years has also been met with resistance. The players union and team owners are both standing firm at this point, though if both sides want to avoid the second lockout in pro sports in a year, they must find a way to compromise. Right now, the smart money is on the NBPA blinking first.