NBA is back, but what about the smaller markets?

Nov 27 2011 - 5:33pm

At least once a week since the lockout began almost five months ago, somebody asked if I missed the NBA.

Well, yes and no.

Yes, because from a selfish point of view, the league is fun to watch when the game is honored, as well as a delight to cover. The players, coaches and front-office people are generally more accessible and friendlier than their counterparts in the other two big leagues. The NBA is far less rigid and paranoid than the NFL's closed society and not nearly as uptight as baseball.

All things considered, the NBA is a good fit in a causal city such as Milwaukee.

And no, because I did not like what David Stern's NBA had become.

The NBA commissioner had allowed the game to spiral out of control in so many distasteful ways. Players were marketed ahead of the teams. Players such as LeBron James had become more powerful than the commissioner himself. Ill-conceived franchise relocations were approved. And it was becoming very hard for a small-market franchise like the Bucks to do business.

And when all of that began causing the NBA's credibility to further erode, Stern tried to stuff the genie back into the bottle with all the force of a Darryl Dawkins dunk. He did the politically expedient thing in such economic times by trying to take money and power from the drawing card he had bestowed it on -- the players.

That's why a lockout caused the NBA to cancel regular-season games for the first time in 13 years. Under the usual duress of hemorrhaging money, the NBA finally settled its tedious labor dispute Saturday.

From a cynical point of view, the timing was right. The league had always targeted the profitable Christmas Day slot for the TV money.

The owners should be furious at Stern for not holding to his ultimatum of a 47 percent share of basketball-related income for the players. And the bottom-earning players should be upset at the top one percenters for causing them to miss paychecks.

So the end of the lockout was no cause for celebration. It is just time to get back to work.

The only thing that matters now is whether the NBA is coming back in a way that will make life easier for franchises like the Bucks.

As things were headed, the NBA was starting to get the feel of the old NHL. Back in the day, only six professional hockey teams existed. In the modern NBA, only about a half-dozen teams seemed to matter. The rest were being driven out of competition by a financial system so broken that a very good NBA city like Seattle could not keep its team and a decent one like Cleveland could not keep its world from collapsing when James fled.

That wasn't a league worth salvaging. Let's see if the new financial structure is able to allow everyone else outside of New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas to become interesting and viable.

Of course, it's always the responsibility of a team such as the Bucks to put a good product on the floor. Injuries and chemistry issues conspired to make the Bucks an uninteresting entertainment option last season. Those are issues for the local level.

Big picture, the Bucks are part of a 30-team cooperative necessary to play 66 regular-season games this year and the usual 82 beyond. Teams like the Bucks need help from the NBA for it to remain healthy league. The Bucks also need a new arena somewhere down the road, but that is a different story for a different day.

For now, they need a level playing court, a chance to remain competitive so an entire league can move forward and begin to thrive again. It's incumbent upon the Bucks to develop talent, keep the payroll commensurate to market size, and play well enough to sell tickets. But it's up to the league to give the Bucks a fighting chance to keep the players they develop.

How will the fans react to the restart? Around here, as usual, with the added benefit that football season will be near its end when the NBA gets going. Fans might initially stay away, but if the Bucks remain healthy and start winning again with Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, the Bradley Center will return to life.

But if the league doesn't get its house in order this time, it's hard to imagine the NBA and franchises like the Bucks moving on together.

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