In years past when friends would ask me what I did in the offseason with my job, I explained that there really wasn't an offseason at all.
First there's the NBA draft, I explained, followed by offseason movement through free agency and trades. Then there's the summer league in Las Vegas and sometimes smaller summer leagues in Orlando and Salt Lake City, Utah, too. Don't forget USA Basketball minicamps in Vegas every summer for the past five years. Plus there are international competitions like EuroBasket, FIBA Americas, the FIBA World Championship and the Olympics to pay attention to. And by the time those end it's just about time for training camp to start, which might bring the team I'm covering halfway across the globe if it's selected to be a part of the NBA's Europe Live exhibition schedule.
Well, this summer, there truly will be an offseason.
No summer league. No trades. No free-agent signings. Nothing. It's such a bleak NBA world right now that NBA.com, the league's official website, was redesigned on Thursday night to basically look like a newsletter. All player names, videos and photos were scrubbed from the page, replaced by a head shot of commissioner David Stern, a whole bunch of text and another photo of the WNBA's Diana Taurasi.
When the clock struck midnight on Thursday, the league entered a lockout. It has the potential to be an arduous one, too, that wipes away a significant portion or even all of the 2011-12 season. The league's owners had been in negotiations with the players' association for 18 months -- a year and a half! -- and the fundamental conversation hardly changed a bit.
With no lockout deadline in sight anymore to serve as motivation to bridge the gap between owners who want a much harder "flex" salary cap and fewer years on guaranteed contracts, among other concessions, and players who want to keep the status quo after generations of players before them fought for those rights and benefits, it could be a long time before we get to see Kobe Bryant's lower jaw jut after a clutch jumper, much less anything else occur in an NBA basketball game.
Every person associated with the game -- fans, players, owners, team employees, arena workers, merchandisers and even media members -- will be affected by the lockout, but the question we really want to know the answer to is: How will the lockout affect the Los Angeles Lakers?
Here are five ways in which it could:
1. More time off could equal more time for
players to take care of their bodies
The L.A. Times first reported that Bryant didn't wait long to use the summer to try to do something about that creaky right knee of his. Approximately two weeks after the season ended, according to the Times, Bryant flew to Germany to undergo an innovative procedure known as platelet-rich plasma therapy to try to stimulate tissue repair in his "bone-on-bone" right knee. Would Bryant be as eager to try a relatively unproven medical procedure 15 years into his career if he thought training camp would be starting on time? He was asked at his exit interview if he considered getting surgery on his fractured right index finger, but said he decided against it because the recovery time would be too long. Maybe the lockout isn't giving him a window to spruce up all of his joints, but so far he seems to have jumped at the opportunity to try something new in the regeneration process. Could Pau Gasol use the time to make sure his chronically strained hamstrings are 100 percent moving forward? How about Luke Walton's lower back? Lamar Odom's shoulder? Andrew Bynum's knees? How much could modern medicine help all of these guys if they know there will be a longer offseason because the lockout will give them built-in recovery time?
2. A new CBA at the end of the lockout could mean no more Walton
It hasn't gotten a ton of publicity, but one stipulation for the next CBA that's been volleyed about (and has been mentioned quite often by TNT's David Aldridge) is that teams could receive an amnesty clause that would allow them to buy out one "bad" contract and not have it count against their cap moving forward. The natural target for the Lakers, should this occur, would be Walton, who has $11.8 million owed to him in the next two seasons and has not been an effective player for quite some time because of limitations stemming from his lower back injuries.
3. A lengthy lockout could mean little rest
between games in a shortened season
In the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, teams played 50 games in a span of approximately 90 days. Last season, the Lakers played their 82 games in about 170 days, as Brian Kamenetzky mentioned on "The Triangle" on ESPNLA.com. While the average days per game seems like a pretty minor adjustment (1.8 rather than 2.07), the big difference is in back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs, for that matter. The Lakers had 15 back-to-backs last season and while they performed relatively well in them, Phil Jackson liked to call the second night of a back-to-back on the road a "scheduled loss" because teams just can't muster the liveliness in their legs to win a game like that consistently. And especially not an aging team like the Lakers. In '98-99, the Lakers played 11 back-to-backs in 50 games, not including three occasions when they played three straight games on three straight nights. While it could help the Lakers "flip the switch" and stay on from the very beginning of the season rather than coast, which hurt them last season, it could also burn them out before the playoffs even begin.
4. A lengthy lockout could mean a severely truncated training camp
Mike Brown had all of 30 days to try to make a connection with the Lakers' 15 players from the time he was officially hired on June 1 to when the lockout went into place. As long as the lockout exists, he, and every other team employee, is forbidden from making contact with any player, or a player's family, friends, agent, etc., for that matter. If a team employee breaks the rule, he or she is risking a tremendous fine from the league office that reportedly could be up to $1 million. If and when the season resumes, assuming the lockout would have caused the league to miss games, training camps will be cut down, too. For some teams, that's a blessing. For Brown, it would be a big-time curse. He still has to implement a new offense, a new defense, new signals, new inbounds plays, new side out-of-bounds plays, etc. And that's just the X's and O's. He also has to ingratiate himself to a group of guys that already was very successful without him around the past four seasons and worry about having his assistant coaching staff go through the same process, as well. It would be difficult to pull off seamlessly with a full training camp. With a shortened one, it is hard to believe that Brown's team would be prepared as well as he would ideally like it to be when the first ball of the season is tipped.
5. A lockout could test Bryant's and Derek Fisher's
reputation as leaders more than ever
With guys like Brown and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak unable to contact their players and check in on their progress during the offseason, it will be up to the Lakers' co-captains, Bryant and Fisher, to keep tabs on the roster more than ever. Who is going to teach rookies Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock the work ethic it takes to make it in this league? Who is going to check in on Gasol to make sure he feels connected when he's vacationing in Spain and playing international ball in Lithuania later this summer? Who is going to give Metta World Peace a piece of his mind about staying focused on basketball? Bryant and Fisher have been praised over the past half-dozen seasons as some of the toughest, smartest and most willing leaders the league has. How they handle the lockout and shepherd their teammates can really earn them those captain C's.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.