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J.A. ADANDE

Working Under a Tight Schedule

November 14, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

Let's say the NBA lockout ended over the weekend.

Granted, this takes some imagination. In this hopelessly optimistic scenario, it would occur right after Iraq invited U.N. weapons inspectors to do their jobs.

If peace broke out all around, NBA teams would at least be assured they could play again. They just wouldn't know when and where. The league is so messed up right now that no fantasy can last too long before reality hits like a bucket of cold water.

The sides can't even agree when to talk again, so there's no idea how many games each team would play. "It's just so hard, because I don't know," said Forum President Jeanie Buss, who handles the arena's scheduling. "Are they going to try to play? Are they going to continue? Are they going to change the schedule so that you only play each team once? Are they going to double up so you play more games against teams in your own division?"

For now, all she can do is act in good faith and not book any events for the nights the Lakers were supposed to use down the road.

But with the first four weeks of the season already canceled and the first two weeks of December effectively gone (the league would need at least a month to get ready after an agreement), Buss has already given the OK for the building to be used for three commercial shoots.

At least that way there will be some form of Showtime at the Forum. Meanwhile, the basketball court sits stacked in a storage area, collecting dust. It was refinished in September and hasn't been touched since.

Buss has to worry about only one building. Pity the plight of Matt Winick, the NBA's vice president of scheduling and game operations, who must configure a schedule for the entire league.

"I would hate to be in his position right now," Buss said.

Normally Winick has several months to perform his duties. In January teams give him a list of the 55 or so dates their arenas will be available for the next year and--with the help of a computer that prevents oversights such as games in Seattle and Miami on consecutive nights--he doles out the schedule of 41 home games and 41 road games by midsummer.

Now he's looking at maybe one month to fix things. Not merely a missed game. Everything.

Unforeseen events such as a leaky roof, melting ice seeping onto the court in arenas with NHL teams or bad weather have forced the cancellation of NBA games in the past.

"A lot of times you wonder how you're going to get a game played, but up until this year we had managed to get all the games played," Winick said. "We had a storm in the East a couple of years ago that wiped out a number of games in one weekend; it was difficult to reschedule."

But they did it. Weather and buildings they can work around. Greed and egos are something entirely different.

So every day a little more of the work Winick put into making this year's schedule goes for naught. Seven more games went by the wayside Friday, bringing the total games missed so far to 84.

If we want to be realistic, it's hard to imagine any resolution until after Thanksgiving. If the two sides take the time to be thankful they share the profits of a $2-billion industry, maybe they'll come to their senses by the end of the month. That would allow them to start by Christmas, which was the only date the owners ever cared about because that's when they are obligated to provide games for NBC.

It also would provide a natural fit for one proposed plan to have each of the 29 teams play two games against every other team in a 56-game season.

Originally, the Lakers had 58 games left from Dec. 25 on and the Clippers had 57. There would be enough previously scheduled home games on the calendar that they shouldn't have to find extra nights when the buildings were clear. And it's easy to find games we can do without. We don't need to see the Lakers play the Grizzlies or the Clippers play the Warriors twice at home, do we?

There was some discussion of "recapturing" lost games a couple of weeks back. That seems like ages ago. Now it would take progress simply to recapture the talk of recapturing.

Winick says he's ready for whatever his bosses tell him to do.

"If a deal gets made, the schedule will not hold up resumption of play," Winick said. "The first thing is, a deal has to be made and we'll go from there."

And not even the man in charge of scheduling can say when and where that will happen.

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: j.a.adande@latimes.com

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