NBA Schedule: A Dodo Without Doves

According to the schedule released by the league, the 2011-12 NBA season will tip off on Nov. 1 with Dirk and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks receiving their rings from owner Mark Cuban and then hosting the reigning MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls on TNT. In the ‘drama network’s nightcap, Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers take on a team that some consider will soon have “next,” Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

ESPN gets in the national telecast action the following night with Miami’s Big 3 or 2, depending on whether one subscribes to the Big Analytic’s math, against New York’s orange and blue trio of Carmelo, Amar’e and Chauney at the refurbished (at least the lower bowl) MSG. Kobe and Mike Brown’s crew quickly get into the back-to-back binge against former Bristol employee and rookie coach Mark (Hand Down, Man Down) Jackson and his Golden State Warriors.

Normally, pro basketball fans would be abuzz about such a beginning. But with the lockout already stretching into its 20th day — staff members from the NBA and players’ association, albeit sans commissioner David Stern, union executive director Billy Hunter, or players or owners, are expected to meet on July 22  — there’s a better chance an arena will open in Brooklyn this fall than the NBA tipping on time.

Still, TNT and ESPN/ABC, all coming off record Nielsen regular- and post-seasons, dutifully and optimistically soldiered on, releasing their opening week fixtures and pointing out other schedule highlights.

Last season, 22 of the 30 NBA clubs reportedly wound up in the red,  and the owners are now looking to save themselves from their check books via a hard cap, while asking for rollbacks of $800 million from the players’ $2.1 billion in collective salary. Those are some real divides that need to be bridged, not like the NFL owners and clubs trying to slice up a $9 billion (and growing) revenue pie. While most in the sports community expected pro football to get in the same huddle in time to save their lucrative realm — something that may finally happen on July 21 –the NBA’s $4 billion universe is much more fragile.

Many are wondering whether the circuit will take a page out of the playbook of Stern’s protégé Gary Bettman, who iced the entire 2004-05 NHL campaign for a new fiscal model, or replicate the plan that resulted in a 50-game, labor-impaired 1999 season.

If pro roundball rims out, the college game should bounce higher with the Nielsens. Perhaps even more interesting is how the NBA will regroup and try to maintain some semblance of its national carriers’ schedules that not only heavy up on the aforementioned clubs (minus Jackson’s men), but the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic.

Of course with New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams supposedly heading to Istanbul’s Besiktas by way of Newark (and before Brooklyn), and others, including the Black Mamba, reportedly exploring similar or other overseas options, here’s another question that may need resolution should the lockout airball some or all of the upcoming season: Which network is going to gain U.S. media rights to the Turkish Basketball League?