David Stern’s legacy —
The NBA has never been more profitable, as evidenced by the popular NBA-Europe series in which the Mavericks and Celtics headed east to face Euroleague teams while the Heat and Clippers faced off in China. What’s more, there are two European teams currently in the United States facing NBA teams during the preseason.
There was a time when Stern had dreams of a team or even a division in Europe, a first in American sports. He was determined to devise a way for a group of teams in London, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and Berlin to compete with the 30 stateside NBA teams and even have a real world championship series.
Regardless of how uncomfortable the idea made fans who believe 30 teams was enough — and regardless of how inconceivable it might be to have a team in a time zone six hours ahead of the Eastern US — Stern was going to add the London Abbeys to the NBA.
But that idea seems to have fizzled along with the international economy and the lack of NBA-worthy venues overseas. What Stern realized is that many of the arenas that house Euroleague teams are not up to NBA standards.
For example, the Ulker Sports Arena in Istanbul, a sparkling new venue that houses Fenerbahce Ulker and features an adjacent practice facility, fits only 13,000, which would make it the smallest arena in the NBA.
“I don’t think having a single team in Europe is practical,” Stern said last week in Milan before watching the Celtics take on Emporio Armani Milano. “I never have.
“What I’ve said is if we’re going to have an NBA presence here in terms of the league, it should be five teams. It’s safe to say that there aren’t enough buildings, there aren’t adequate TV arrangements, we don’t have owners, and I’m not sure we could charge the prices that would be necessary. I don’t think our fans are that avid yet.
“But every year it gets better. Every year we have more fans. They tune into our games more. We now have an arena in London and one in Berlin that could probably house an NBA team. There is a planned renovation for Bercy in Paris that will be some years off.”
Stern said part of the problem is that European cities, where soccer rules day and night, are not financially prepared to build arenas to house anything more than an exhibition game.
“In one of my recent visits here, there was a discussion about both an arena in Rome that construction ceased upon, and the possibility that there would be a new arena in Milano in connection with the world expo, but that’s not happening, either,” he said.
“So right now, it’s the same two buildings, with the prospect of construction in France that will start in 2014. So, realistically, there is no short-term way that we could, I think, profitably consider that.
“So the mode for us is to work with the federations, work with FIBA, work with the leagues, and work with the Euroleague, which we’re doing right now.”
During their overseas exhibition games, the Celtics and Mavericks played a hybrid version of FIBA rules. There appears to be no chance that the NBA will adopt FIBA rules, which are more stringent besides the goaltending rule that allows balls to be touched after they hit the rim, regardless of whether they are in the cylinder.
“I would [like a set of international rules] but it’s not going to happen, at least not on my watch and any watch that I could foresee,” Stern said. “Our league is not crazy about the FIBA basket interference rule, which is no rule. Once it hits the rim, it’s in play. I happen to like it. But our league is about evenly split on its utilization.
“In a good way, FIBA has widened the lane, moving out the 3-point line, eliminated the non-touching of the ball on a change of possession, gone to four periods. I don’t see them going to 48 minutes [instead of 40], but our games are getting to be remarkably similar. I think that is the way it’s going to be, with yet a third game, the college game, having its own set of rules.”
It seems Stern is satisfied with playing exhibition games and perhaps one or two regular-season games per year overseas. The Knicks and Pistons are scheduled for a regular-season game in London. But beyond all that, the NBA’s flirtation with Europe appears done.
“There has been enormous improvement in the quality of the basketball around the world,” said Stern. “In the London Olympics, on 11 of the 12 teams, we had 59 current or former NBA players. That just speaks to the quality of the international competition. The quality being that international players make our game better by playing in the NBA, and then they return to play for the national teams.
“But increasingly, there are a number of players in these games who our teams would like, but they’re not coming unless they get paid, and they know exactly what they want to be paid — and they’d rather play in Europe.
“That’s OK, because there are so many basketball players in the world. The level of the game is getting to be so much better. It’s a joy if your idea is to grow the game, and it is our idea.”
Mavericks not at full strength
The Mavericks have undergone myriad changes since last season, having dumped Lamar Odom while losing Jason Kidd (Knicks) and Jason Terry (Celtics) to free agency. After clearing enough salary-cap space to sign Deron Williams or acquire Dwight Howard, they ended up with neither and have pieced together a roster that includes Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand, and Chris Kaman.
The motor of the Mavericks, of course, is forward Dirk Nowitzki, and he is already having knee issues that may be of concern. He missed Dallas’s 99-85 loss Tuesday to FC Barcelona and said the pain is becoming a factor.
“Unfortunately I have some more swelling,” said Nowitzki.
Nowitzki acknowledged that he has been dealing with knee problems for years.
“Well, ‘scared’ is a strong word,” he said. “Obviously it’s unfortunate. I think last year I dealt with it, and we did some treatment twice, and after that the swelling didn’t come back for the rest of the season.
“I’m hoping the same for this year — just the body’s got to get used to all the running and jumping again, and hopefully it’ll respond here in the next week or so and then I’ll play throughout the whole season.”
Nowitzki is considering arthroscopic surgery, which would make the Mavericks’ road in the Western Conference even more treacherous. Like the Celtics, the Mavericks attempted to add youth to their aging core, but without the big free agent score, they have a flawed roster and must depend on inconsistent parts such as Kaman, Mayo, and Brand.
Without a healthy Nowitzki, the Mavericks will be on the outside of the Western Conference elite.
“The objective of the season is definitely to be in the playoffs — the Mavericks over the past 12 years have almost always been in the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “I think we missed the first two years but have been in there ever since.”
The Mavericks, understandably, are entering this season with some skepticism, given how the Lakers, Clippers, Timberwolves, and Jazz have ramped up to compete with the Thunder.
“A lot of teams have done a lot. It just makes the conference very competitive,” said veteran Mavericks swingman Vince Carter. “The Clippers are very good. I think Minnesota is going to be surprisingly good, in my opinion; they’ve got a lot of firepower. It’s going to be a challenge every night.”
A team grows in Brooklyn
The Nets will open their sparkling-new Barclays Center Monday in Brooklyn when they host the Wizards in an exhibition game — the next step in the reincarnation of the New York-New Jersey franchise that has sought respectability on a par with the rival Knicks.
The Nets will be the subject of “The Association,” the NBA’s version of “Hard Knocks,” which will examine training camp and the preparation for the team’s first season in the rejuvenated borough. The Nets boosted their lineup with the re-signing of Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries, and the acquisitions of Joe Johnson and C.J. Watson.
The show will allow fans to get a first-hand look at how the Nets are taking steps to be more competitive, at the influence of rapper Jay-Z, a minority owner, and at majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who has promised fans a championship within three seasons.
“It’s only mere miles, but the mentality is completely different,” said center Brook Lopez. “We are in the city now and have to deal with a lot more media, but the people in Brooklyn have been so welcoming.
“The city has a huge sports fan base and is excited to have us. It has really been noticeable in practice, just the level of competition every day. I am getting beat up daily by guys like Reggie [Evans] and Andray [Blatche].”
It seemed the Nets were waiting for the arrival of Dwight Howard, who told just about everybody within earshot that he wanted to play for Brooklyn.
General manager Billy King carried out his due diligence to negotiate a deal with Orlando, but the Magic did not want the rebound-anemic Lopez as the centerpiece of their rebuilding plan. So the Nets responded by re-signing Lopez to a four-year, $61 million contract that essentially ended their participation in the Howard sweepstakes.
“It’s a great opportunity for the city and organization as we move into Brooklyn,” said King. “It will be a great chance for our players and organization to really display what it takes to try and build a winner.”
The acquisition of Johnson, with a whopping $89 million left on his contract, for five players and two draft picks, was a calculated risk. The Hawks were clamoring to get rid of him because of his anchor-like contract and lack of leadership. But with Williams present, Johnson, a former Celtic, does not need to assume a leadership role.
“We have, going into this season, a confident bunch,” Johnson said. “This is a new start for everybody. We’ve got to put the past behind us and move forward.”
Williams was on the cover of last week’s Sports Illustrated, and the relocation, along with the participation of Jay-Z and the new acquisitions, have brought more attention to the Nets than they received in their 35 years in New Jersey.
“It’s good for this organization, good for all of us as players for a chance to get seen,” Williams said. “A lot of guys haven’t played on TV too much lately.
“Those things are fun, playing on TV and some of those things that come with it. Hopefully we can live up to it and win some games.”
Iowa State rookie Royce White told the Globe over the summer that he wanted to raise awareness for anxiety disorder, something that plagued him throughout his college career. And it is apparent that he is still grappling with it, as he reported to Rockets camp last week and developed a travel plan that would reduce the chances for anxiety attacks. White will take buses to certain games because of a fear of flying. White told the Globe that he was upset that some people viewed his disorder as a character issue and not an affliction.
A player that NBA scouts were closely watching this summer was European guard Bo McCalebb, who was a free agent and drew interest from the Spurs before signing a three-year pact with Fenerbahce Ulker, a favorite to win the Turkish League. McCalebb had a big showcase game this month against the Celtics, delivering 20 points and 4 assists in Fenerbahce’s 97-91 win . . . With spots for American players limited in the Chinese Basketball Association, former All-Star Tracy McGrady accepted a contract, meaning he won’t be available to an NBA team until March. The fact that McGrady did not attract more attention from NBA teams is curious, considering his impact for the Hawks during their first-round playoff loss last season to the Celtics. McGrady obviously wasn’t the same player he was in his vintage scoring days, but he was savvy enough to help the club . . . The revamped Raptors are hoping for some good luck, but point guard Kyle Lowry is out indefinitely with a strained adductor muscle in his left leg. Toronto had been searching for years for a guard to replace the steady but unspectacular Jose Calderon, and Lowry was a more-than-adequate replacement. But he has yet to be healthy in camp . . . The Lakers could be at full strength for the season opener, as Dwight Howard has been participating in full-contact drills and Steve Blake, who was expected to miss three weeks, returned to action after 10 days. With no Derek Fisher, Blake is the primary backup to Steve Nash.