The NBA is plunging into the dog days of summer with amazingly nothing happening.
Well, unless you enjoy barristers debating the finer points of labor law as much as you do Blake Griffin throwing down another outrageous dunk. In that case, this could be the season for you, basketball's version of "Stern & Order."
Coming off perhaps its most intriguing, thrilling, satisfying year since Michael Jordan was getting ready to retire a second time, the NBA seems perfectly willing to throw it all away.
Fortunately for owners and players, few people seem to be noticing at the moment. All anyone cares about is their precious NFL solved its labor impasse in time for a slightly delayed start to training camp, salvaging every game except for one measly exhibition.
Throw in the baseball pennant races and start of college football, and it's no knock on the NBA to say that it would be a mere afterthought at this point even if the players and owners were being all warm and fuzzy with each other. They're not, of course, but it's nothing more than background noise in the current sporting environment.
Well, they're on the clock.
Christmas is the key.
John Q. Public will start to awaken from his football stupor on Dec. 25, when the NBA season really begins for most folks. Now, the schedule optimistically put out by the league a while back shows LeBron James' Miami Heat are supposed to meet Dirk Nowitzki and the champion Dallas Mavericks that day in a rematch of the NBA Finals, with the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers vs. Derrick Rose's Bulls on the undercard.
Everyone better make sure the league is up and running at full speed by that day, as if nothing happened. They can only hope most people aren't noticing all the ugliness that's going on now.
But, if the NBA is still mired in shutdown mode and all its big stars are collecting a check overseas — which the international governing body FIBA has ruled they can do as long as the lockout lasts — the fans are gonna get mad.
Really, really mad.
The kind of mad that won't be washed away if the two sides are gushing over a settlement in, say, mid-January, then rushing to play an abbreviated regular season that might not be much longer than the real cash cow, the playoffs. Or, heaven forbid, this thing drags on so long that an entire season is lost.
What a shame that would be, given the headlines of this most recent season. Miami assembling its Big Three. The playoffs turning into an exhilarating ride filled with upsets. A heavily watched finals that resulted in a satisfying result for everyone outside of South Beach.
"It seems like every year we're breaking new records for ratings," Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith said shortly after the playoffs ended for his team. "When you look back on the success we've had this season, it really wouldn't make any sense."
No sense, indeed.
Yet here we are. In one corner, there's Commissioner David Stern and an obstinate band of billionaires crying poverty. In the other, a bunch of sheltered, pampered athletes who make more in a week that most Americans do in a year, drawing a line in the sand for the status quo.
They've come out swinging, but all they're headed for is a trainwreck of massive proportions.
And make no mistake: This could be a knockout the NBA won't fully recover from for a decade or more.
Hey guys, in case you didn't notice, there's no "F'' or "L'' in your logo. About the only thing you've got in common with the NFL is the "N." So, if you think the fans will be ready to kiss and make up as quickly as they did following pro football's lockout, puh-leeeze, get real.
Sadly, there's little reason for optimism. The owners locked out the players when the collective bargaining agreement expired on July 1, claiming they need major changes (can you say hard salary cap?) after supposedly losing hundreds of millions of dollars last season. The players like the system the way it is and believe the owners have cooked the books to make their losses look a lot worse than they really are.
The most recent negotiating session was Monday, which turned out to be of little benefit to anyone except those who passed the bar. The owners accused the players of planning a sham decertification of their union (a la the NFL players) so they could file an antitrust lawsuit. The owners got the drop in court, filing two legal claims against the players on Tuesday.
"For the parties to reach agreement on a new CBA, the union must commit to the collective bargaining process fully and in good faith," said Adam Silver, the NBA's deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, in his best legalese.
Countered Billy Hunter, executive director of the players union, sounding very much like Silver: "We urge the NBA to engage with us at the bargaining table and to use more productively the short time we have left before the 2011-12 season is seriously jeopardized."
Of course, most of this is just legal mumbo-jumbo, of little interest to the average fan.
So, a word of warning to the hoops crowd:
You're not the NFL.
Get this thing settled before Santa delivers a nasty lump of coal.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Contact him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963