NEW YORK (AP) — Real basketball is almost here.
The NBA preseason schedule, with so many games that Gregg Popovich didn’t even bother going to San Antonio’s opener, is mercifully nearing its end.
It’s already over for Kobe Bryant, nursing an injury. LeBron James also was done last week.
Everyone would be, if some coaches had their way.
The schedule can become such a bore that Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd longs for the glory days of the lockout, when teams could squeeze in only two warmup games before the real ones arrived.
“No one complained,” Kidd said.
They do now.
The league allows for a maximum of eight preseason games, or nearly one-tenth of an entire regular season. But it’s condensed into a span of just three weeks, sometimes creating the necessity of back-to-backs that players dread when the games count, let alone when they’re just for practice.
Kidd, who was still playing when the 2011 lockout ended, favors four preseason games. Cleveland coach David Blatt agrees.
“I’ve expressed myself to the people that make those decisions on more than one occasion,” Blatt said. “My voice is only one, but it’s clearly my opinion that we should play four, maximum five preseason games and create a situation where we could have fewer back-to-backs and give players a little bit more time to rest and a little bit less wear and tear during the preseason.”
It’s not that coaches want to shorten the preseason itself. They like the month they get between the start of training camp and the beginning of the regular season.
It’s just that the games get in the way of the work.
“It’s something that with the CBA you can only have five days of training camp, and you can have two-a-days and even in that, one of the practices is only an hour with limited contact,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “You need practice time. Guys need to be able to prepare and get comfortable with each other, get comfortable with whatever you’re trying to implement. It’s hard in the preseason when you’re playing and traveling like you do during the regular season. There’s really no need to.”
Well, there is to the organizations and the league. New rules can be tested, game-night operations ironed out, and of course, money can be made.
“I like the number of games. I love giving young players a chance to play. And off the court it lets us get our entertainment and presentation put together,” Dallas owner Mark Cuban said.
“It’s also the best and really only way to introduce NBA teams around the world.”
The NBA added preseason games in Canada and staged another exhibition in Brazil, seeking to drum up more interest before the All-Star Game and Olympics are held in those countries in 2016. And the two-game trip to China got a boost with the inclusion of the Charlotte Hornets, sending owner Michael Jordan to fans that are crazy about basketball.
The Hornets paid for it, though, on the back end with four games in six nights, a brutal stretch that would have coaches seething if the NBA had drawn it up.
But the teams handle their own preseason scheduling, determining how many games to play (there is no minimum) and how often. Coaches aren’t always thrilled with what they get. Hollins didn’t like that the Nets’ six-game slate included two games apiece against Atlantic Division rivals Boston and Philadelphia.
“I wouldn’t mind playing some of the Western teams that are close by, but it is what it is,” he said. “It’s easy to get to these games and it makes the travel different. It’s not a huge issue, but I would prefer to play some teams that you’re not playing all year long in your division, in your conference, that you’re battling with for playoff positions.”
Players don’t gripe as much, since most of the top ones don’t even consider playing in every game. Carmelo Anthony noted that the Knicks’ six-game schedule was better than the seven they played last year, then promptly sat out the second night of a back-to-back at Charlotte.
Popovich, who sits players out of regular-season games for rest, held Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili out of the Spurs’ opener at Sacramento along with himself, keeping to his policy of letting an assistant run the team each year in a preseason game.
The NBA would probably welcome a shorter preseason, since that could lengthen the regular-season calendar to create more rest opportunities for players, a goal of Commissioner Adam Silver. Silver said during All-Star weekend that coaches told him they don’t value the exhibition games as much as they once did, so perhaps those can be reduced and the overall preseason trimmed.
“I think that would be good for the game,” Blatt said. “I know that it would be good for the players and I also think it would be good for the fans.”