NBA’s lame game has David Stern, players’ union to blame
BY MARK POTASH Twitter: @MarkPotash May 2, 2012 12:15PM
Prior to his playoff-ending ACL injury, Derrick Rose had missed 27 games this season after missing just six in his previous three NBA seasons. | AP
Updated: May 2, 2012 3:35PM
‘‘In most years we average about five ACLs and prior to this year’s playoffs we had three — from a schedule where we played two more games a month.’’
— NBA commissioner David Stern to ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd last week
Please don’t even try to insult our intelligence, David Stern. Just take your lumps for a bad NBA season, accept your share of the blame and hope the lesson learned isn’t any more costly than it already has been.
Even if Derrick Rose’s torn anterior cruciate ligament was a random event and not the result of wear-and-tear from the compressed post-lockout schedule, you’ll be spittin’ into the wind trying to argue that Rose’s five previous injuries and 27 missed games this season — after he had missed six of 274 games in his first three NBA seasons — had nothing to do with the post-lockout schedule.
The same goes for Iman Shumpert, who suffered a torn ACL the same day Rose mangled his knee. It could have happened any time. But like Rose, Shumpert’s knee injury followed previous injuries this season that aren’t quite so random. A rookie who jumped into the deep end on Dec. 10 — with no Las Vegas Summer League or team-authorized conditioning program because of the lockout — Shumpert suffered a sprained right knee in his first NBA game on Dec. 25.
Expected to miss 2-4 weeks, Shumpert returned after a week. But the Oak Park-River Forest product missed three games before the All-Star break in February with a sore left knee, then blew it out on Saturday in a game that served as a snapshot of the NBA’s fractured 2011-12 season: LeBron James and the Heat dominated; Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire combined to shoot 5-for-22; Jeremy Lin was in the house but unable to play; Shumpert tore up his knee — and the Knicks were swamped 100-67 in an ugly playoff blowout.
Commissioner Stern said the issue will be reviewed in the offseason, but his cursory argument is weak. If the three ACLs this season compared to five last season is the best he can muster in defense of the compressed schedule, he might as well give it up and go straight to the mea culpa, because that won’t cut it. The list of players who missed games — and practices — with sprains, strains and spasms of various body parts is going to be tough to whitewash, even for a sharp guy like David Stern.
An All-Star team comprised of players who missed 10 or more games this season would include Rose (27 games missed), Dwyane Wade (17), Dwight Howard (12), Carmelo Anthony (11) and Amare Stoudemire (19), with plenty in reserve. Last year it would have been Rajon Rondo (14), Joe Johnson (10), Andrew Bynum (31), Kevin Garnett (11) and Caron Butler (53). I think I know which team Phil Jackson would come back to coach.
And for every ACL that can be blamed on fate, there’s an injury that clearly is a byproduct of the lockout. Richard Hamilton didn’t sign with the Bulls until Dec. 14 and didn’t practice until Dec. 15 — 10 days before the first regular-season game. After four games in six days he was out with a groin injury. He came back for a game, then missed eight; came back for five and missed 14 of the next 15. That’s not random. That’s a pattern.
And how about poor Keith Bogans, the poster boy for all that went wrong in the post-lockout season? Bogans started all 99 games for the Bulls last season, but was unceremoniously cut at the start of training camp after the lockout ended — getting pulled off the court on the opening day of practice being the textbook definition of ‘‘unceremonious.’’ After ‘‘sitting home for a month and a half going crazy’’ he signed with the New Jersey Nets. In his fifth game with the Nets Bogans suffered a torn ligament and broken bone in his left ankle and was out for the season.
Nets center Brook Lopez, who had not missed a game in his first three NBA seasons, suffered a broken right foot in the second preseason game, a sprained ankle upon his return and played five games all season.
The circumstantial evidence is too much to pass off as ‘‘random’’ or ‘‘average.’’ Dwight Howard missed seven games in his first seven seasons in the NBA. This season, he developed back problems in March and was done after 54 games with a herniated disc. A lot of Howard’s painful episodes this season were self-inflicted, but his back wasn’t one of them.
But you didn’t have to count injuries to see the impact. All you had to do was watch the games. The Magic with Howard lost to the Bulls with Rose 85-59, setting a franchise record for fewest points in a game. The Trailblazers beat the Spurs by 40 in February and lost to them by 35 in April. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were being rested in the earlier game; LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Jamal Crawford were injured for the later one.
And how about the joke the final week of the regular season became? Is the NBA proud of that? A lot of people paid good money to see the Heat with James Jones, Udonis Haslem, Dexter Pittman, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers lose to the Wizards with Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Jordan Crawford and John Wall. You could see better games than that on most weekends at Garfield Park.
When I blamed Stern for this fiasco in February — after Rose, Anthony, the Clippers’ Chauncey Billups and the Nuggets’ Danilo Gallinari suffered debilitating injuries — a reputable NBA insider pointed out that the Player’s Association also signed off on the abbreviated training camp (from 30 days in 2010-11 to 15 this season) and condensed regular-season schedule.
So I stand corrected. David Stern and the NBPA did the league, the players and the fans a disservice by sacrificing preparation time and practice time to squeeze 66 games into a 124-day schedule. I’m sure there’s a reason why both sides could not have shared the cost of the lockout by scheduling a 50- to 55-game season with prorated player salaries. Probably because it made sense.