NBA teams need Christmas miracle to be ready

There are exactly 12 days until Christmas. While I'm doing last-minute shopping, juggling holiday parties and impatiently working my way through the chocolates in my advent calendar, NBA players, coaches and owners are frantically readying for a season that has somehow arrived all too soon, despite being two months delayed.

After 149 days of lockout ennui, fans rejoiced when the NBA announced that the season would start on Christmas Day. They may be a little less enthused when their teams hit the court next Sunday displaying as much chemistry as the cast of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta." (Though I bet NeNe could really put a body on someone in the paint ... and Cynthia's got the kind of length that would draw a lot of looks on draft night. But I digress.)

Even the teams that have a high number of returning players will have to scramble to pull things together by opening weekend. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to see Derrick Rose and the Bulls back out there, but not for one second am I expecting them to pick up where they left off last season. Make no bones about it, the NBA's Christmas Day games will be ugly. Picture slightly-better-than-your-local-pickup-game offenses and the kind of abominable defenses usually reserved for the All-Star Game.

Right now, team websites read like a who's who of the NBA D-League, as coaches struggle just to field two teams of five for a scrimmage. When all the free agents out there finally sign with their new teams, they'll have just a few days to meet their teammates, learn the offense, and update their groupie phones with numbers of the local talent. These guys will be helping decide the outcome of regular-season NBA games before they've even figured out the fastest route to the practice facility or found ESPN2 in their new cable lineup.

Imagining the scene at NBA training camps over the next few days brings to mind visions of grandma's house at Christmas. Folks who have been around the longest -- the Kobes, Dirks, Gammys and Pappys of the world -- will have the run of the house. The newly acquired, like Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler and that boyfriend of eight months who's meeting your family for the first time, will need to be briefed on everything.

It'll be a bit like that great scene in "Sleepless in Seattle" in which Meg Ryan's character, Annie, is testing her fiancé, Walter, on the family members he's about to meet at Christmas dinner.

WALTER: The short one with black hair is your cousin Irene --

ANNIE: -- who's married to --

WALTER: Harold, who ran away with his secretary but came back --

ANNIE: -- because Irene threatened to put the dog to sleep if he didn't.

WALTER: And your brother Tom is a psychology professor and is married to ... Betsy --

ANNIE: -- who is the most competitive woman in the world.

WALTER: Your Uncle Milton lost all his money in a Puerto Rican condominium that went belly up, don't mention the IRS or the Federal prison system. Your mother is Barbara, your father is Cliff --

ANNIE: I hope he doesn't get out his slides.

WALTER: Am I what they had in mind?

ANNIE: They're going to love you.

Of course, by the end of the movie Annie didn't love him, she loved Sam (Tom Hanks). And who could blame her? Sam was totes adorable, while the totally vanilla Walter was allergic to everything under the sun and slept with a humidifier and a box of Kleenex.

Even boring old Walter passed the meet-the-family test with flying colors, so it's clear Christmas with the future in-laws isn't all that tough. Joining an NBA team just a few days before the Christmas opener? Well, that's a bit tougher. And it's not just about learning the names of the training staff and the details of the defensive sets.

Brand-new Cavs players must be briefed on the exclusive use of Comic Sans in the playbook, while Lakers acquisitions will learn quickly that all eight of the Kardashian sisters' series are forbidden on clubhouse TVs after Lamar Odom's sudden departure. New Nets acquisitions will learn not to set foot in the locker room wearing Sean John or Vokal -- it's Jay-Z's Rocawear or Nets warm-ups, period. And while you're at it, newbie, forget you like any vodka besides Stolichnaya. Prokhorov's orders.

Milwaukee signees will find a brand-new hunting rifle in their lockers, while Wizards guys will get a printed guide to proper handgun etiquette. Jazz players will be taught how to work around local liquor laws, and LeBron James will inform Heat acquisitions that the "fourth quarter" is to be referred to in both practice and games as "the third quarter, part II." "Fourth quarter" just sounds so final and important.

If only we could all witness the hot mess that will be this year's training camps. In fact, now would be a great time for HBO to start a league-wide NBA "Hard Knocks" series. We could see Hornets GM Dell Demps get undermined by David Stern during a few more quashed trade attempts, watch the newly slimmed-down Eddy Curry gain all the pounds back, and take bets on which new teammates will come to blows over an old beef first.

It sounds so gloriously chaotic, doesn't it? Unfortunately, we won't get a chance to see the buildup to the letdown; instead, we'll just have to jump right in on opening day. And if what we're watching then even remotely resembles the game of basketball, it'll be a Christmas miracle.

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