Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will be one of the first teams to hear from fans… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
First, you boo.
If you see NBA players in the coming weeks, during an exhibition game or even Christmas Day at Staples Center, you boo them for an absurd 149-day work stoppage that damaged the competitive integrity of the upcoming season and the financial integrity of the thousands of ushers, ticket-takers and concession workers who make it run.
You boo them for spending months rejecting the approximate 50-50 revenue split that was ultimately agreed upon. You boo them for being the last people on the planet to realize the owners were serious about shutting down a season for the sake of a better league. You boo them for being controlled by fat egos that finally collapsed upon thinning wallets.
You boo ... but then, about 10 seconds later, you cheer.
You cheer because the NBA is back with a season the way it should be. A 66-game schedule that begins with three marquee games on Christmas? Are you kidding me? They should do that every season.
There are few things more irrelevant in the NBA than the words "November" and "December," and thanks to the lockout, this year fans were able to skip both. The season never really feels like it gets started until at least Christmas anyway, so now at least it's official.
The NBA is back, and right on time, the games now filled with extra meaning, the playoffs potentially filled with different teams. If you are young and resilient and get hot for a couple of months, you can squeeze your way in -- right, Clippers?
From a Lakers fan's perspective, well, you folks must also be thrilled, because your team is about to embark on the four-month ride of a lifetime.
The Lakers are such a combustible mixture of old and new, it would have been an interesting season even if everyone had the last five months to figure it out and a full 82 games to play it out. But now, with a shortened training camp and compressed schedule, we're talking full-blown nuts.
The Lakers are an older team, so the tightened schedule will hurt them. Jimmy Buss continues to be adamant against trading Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard -- he could do it by Christmas! -- so their stubbornness will also hurt them.
However, they are still the Lakers, so the answer to these questions could just as easily lead the team to the NBA Finals as knock them out in the first round. I have no idea, you have no idea, and that's what will make the league's new Route 66 so fun.
How is new Coach Mike Brown going to assimilate with current coach Kobe Bryant? The schedule will mean more strain on Bryant, which could mean more strain on his relationship with a boss who must know when to rest him. Bryant was one of the winners in the lockout, as he smartly avoided overseas offers to ensure his legs were ready for the season, but now he needs to make sure his attitude is ready for a new boss.
Is Bynum, the new star of late-night workout commercials, going to show up having actually worked out? Will the shortened season -- even shorter for him with his five-game suspension -- keep him on the court longer? More important, where is he going to park?
Then there's Metta World Peace. I cannot believe I just wrote those three words. But get used to it. This is the new Ron Artest. Without a triangle offense to constrict him, will he overcome last season's struggles to become the old Ron Artest?
Pau Gasol, where are you? We had no idea last spring. Guess we'll find out now, and in a hurry.
Finally, there's Derek Fisher, president of the dissolved players' union, who spent the last five months looking like a future politician or coach. Now that they're playing again, can he still look like a point guard? And, if not, can Steve Blake recover from his yearlong amnesia and also remember how to be a point guard ?
As for Clippers fans, they should celebrate their kids, but worry that the kids work hard and stay happy. The Clippers need to sign Eric Gordon to a contract extension before he enters his lame-duck season. They need to match any offers to future star center DeAndre Jordan. They need a contract year out of Chris Kaman.
And they need Blake Griffin to stay sound and strong. I've seen him on so many commercials recently, it's like his season never ended. He was a revelation before his car dunk at the All-Star game last season. Will he be able to overcome all the distractions and be that same player again?
Kobe, Khloe, Kaman, Kia ... I had not thought about any of those things until Saturday morning, and now I can't stop thinking about them.
Yes, I'll boo. Shame on the NBA for the lockout charade. Shame on them for arrogantly acting like they are giving us a gift by returning on Christmas, just as Times columnist T.J. Simers correctly predicted they would do several weeks ago in a piece of particular prescience.
But I'll also cheer. I don't really care how or why the NBA season is back, I'm just glad it's back, thinner and shorter and better than ever.