NBA Schedule-Makers Play It Safe and Opt for the Same Old, Same Old

Shaquille O Neal and Kobe Bryant

Shaquille O’Neal & Kobe Bryant Photo Credit: Icon SMI

The NBA has mapped out the 2009-10 season–yes, I realize I’m a bit late on this–and as usual, those charged with booking the primetime and national TV matchups have invested themselves much too heavily in the past while keeping their eyes shut, for the most part, to the long-term future of the league.

Raise your hand if, after four straight years of the same tired, overhyped, lazy Christmas Day offering from the NBA, you still care about “Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O’Neal.” For the 18 of you with your hand up, please put it down, you’re embarassing everybody.

The San Antonio Spurs will see nearly a quarter of their games televised on either ABC, TNT, or ESPN; eight additional ones are slated for NBA TV. Tim Duncan is obviously a living legend and I know they traded for Richard “Peanut” Jefferson, but unless you’re a Spurs fan or Eva Longoria, few people get excited about the Spurs. Let’s not forget they took part in one of the least-viewed NBA Finals (vs. Lebron James and Cleveland Cavaliers in ’07) in league history. Yawn.

Meanwhile, the young, exciting, up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder–which is led by Kevin Durant, one of the brightest stars in the league–get one national TV game all year, a Wednesday night matchup in mid-December with the Dallas Mavericks on ESPN. Woo.

Speaking of the Mavericks, who were recently sabotaged in their bid to bolster the frontline by overpaying for restricted free agent center Marcin Gortat (the Magic matched his nutty $35+ million deal), they get 12 primetime games, including five of their last seven games in February–six if you include a NBA TV telecast.

Huh? This is essentially the same team that went 50-32 last year and missed barely made the playoffs. Yes, they added Shawn Marion, and stubbornly threw funny money at a 36-year-old Jason Kidd, but this is still one of the more mediocre “good” teams in the league and one that’s well on its way towards a rebuilding phase. They’ll struggle to make the postseason, again… but hey, there’s always that run to the NBA Finals 4 years ago.

More on the NBA’s 2009-10 national TV schedule after the break…

Stephon Marbury

Like the Thunder, the Minnesota Timberwolves, who boast one of the league’s top offensive post players in Al Jefferson and two flashy lottery picks at the point in Ricky Rubio (maybe) and Jonny Flynn, also get one ESPN game all season long, a Friday night tangle with the Phoenix Suns two days after Christmas, a timeslot which is bound to draw huge ratings.

In comparison, the New York Knicks, who’ll trot out a thoroughly uninteresting product onto the floor this season and who will likely be even worse than last year, get five games on ESPN. Five. NYC is obviously a huge market, but national interest in this franchise–or at least in their on-the-court product–is at this point negligible. I’d expect higher ratings for a 3-hour telecast from Starbury Land.

The NBA did get some things right: the Portland Trail Blazers get a whopping 16 games on national TV, the most they’ve maybe ever had. The Golden State Warriors, who were rather awful last season due to injuries and Don Nelson’s excruciating rotation decisions, surprisingly get eight games: here’s to Monta Ellis, Anthony Randolph, and Stephen Curry all logging big minutes in each one of them.

The Denver Nuggets, coming off a remarkable turnaround led by Chauncey Billups and the maturation of Carmelo Anthony that took them all the way to Western Conference Finals, are scheduled for 20 (!) games on ABC, TNT, and ESPN… not including their final four preseason matches, which are all also televised. While the Nuggets deserve some time in the spotlight, though, 20 games seems excessive.

Hey, for those of us who pony $125 up every year for the NBA League Pass–money that’s well spent indeed–nationally televised games aren’t a big deal. We see great basketball almost every night for 6 months straight, not including the playoffs. But for the majority of NBA fans out there, these regular-season matchups are their only chance to watch NBA basketball outside of their hometown team (if they have one) and their opponent. The average casual fan will probably go the entire season without seeing 10 or more teams play even once.

The NBA is a massive marketing machine. They’ve been dreaming of global expansion and domination for years. And, yet, year after year it seems like they play it exceedingly safe–and sell themselves short–when it comes to showcasing their product by only telling half the story.

It’s a shame. There’s a lot more to love about the NBA than the lump of Christmas Day coal that’s Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O’Neal. Or the drab, methodical, depressing affairs that are San Antonio Spurs bore-a-thons. Give me Kevin Durant and the Thunder, Al Jefferson and the Timberwolves, hell, even Danny Granger and the Indiana Pacers anyday over the same old, same old.

There’s a time and place for every team in this league on national TV. Unfortunately, the NBA schedule-makers have once again disagreed.

Stephon Marbury Photo Credit: Icon SMI


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