After almost five months, the NBA looks like it's coming back.
Owners and players reached a tentative agreement early Saturday morning on a new deal that, if approved, would result in a 66-game season beginning on Christmas Day, according to David Stern.
How happy are fans? How does the proposed schedule sound? Our experts break down the big questions, and also give a glimpse at their NBA Finals favorites.
1. On a 0-to-100 scale, how much damage has the lockout done?
Chad Ford, ESPN.com: 40. Fans were disgusted by the behavior of both the owners and the players, and rightfully so. In these tough economic times, haggling over billions was particularly tone-deaf. But the truth is that most fans don't care about the NBA until Christmas anyway. There's going to be a real season and the new tweaks to the system should make the NBA a better league down the road. Had they lost the season, I would've ratcheted the number up to 90.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: As of right now, it's about a 30. But the wounds of the lockout are still fresh and have only begun healing. By the time we have a tip-off on Christmas Day, we'll be hovering around a 5. People were mad at the lockout because it took away basketball. The majority of that is forgiven when we have games back.
Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: 20. There will be fans who swear that they'll never watch another NBA game, and some of them might even stick to that promise. But once we're 20 games into a shortened season, the lockout will be a distant memory to most of us. We watch the sport because we love basketball. That hasn't changed.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: 35. Whenever there's any kind of labor strife among the super-rich there is going to be some blowback. This lockout was no different. But this isn't exactly 1998-99 all over again. The sides have done what it takes -- as agonizing as it was -- to stop the bleeding in time and retain most of its fan base. There will certainly be lingering resentment but it will dwindle with each passing week. From a PR standpoint, the league could actually completely recover by the start of the playoffs.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: 20. And that's probably an estimate on the high side. I've long believed that the notion of "damage" would be dramatically overstated as long as the season started by Christmas. Why? Because we all have very, very short memories in society today. We're going to end up getting almost all the NBA basketball we normally get. People will focus on that and gradually forget the bumpy road that got us here.
2. On a 0-to-100 scale, how enthusiastic will NBA fans be now?
Chad Ford, ESPN.com: 75. Based off my Twitter feed, it should probably be higher. Everyone said they lost interest and no longer cared about the NBA. But for the most part, real NBA fans are happy. The damage done wasn't enormous, and truth be told, a 66-game season that starts around Christmas actually sounds better than an 82-game one. Can they get that written into the CBA?
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Infinity. Basketball isn't just a game. It's a community and a passion for millions of people around the world. Now, the highest form of it is returning. It may take a week or a month, but once Spalding starts ripping through the twine, everybody will be back to normal.
Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: 80. A truncated free-agency and training camp period isn't ideal, but is there really a better day to start a shortened season than on Christmas? With Dallas against Miami on the schedule? As Dallas likely holds its championship ring ceremony? The NBA is back.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: 100 for actual NBA fans. This is Christmas come early. There was a lot of pseudo-resentment toward the league based largely on frustration. But unlike in 1999, Twitter has allowed passionate fans a voice like never before. It was easy to hear on a daily basis how badly they wanted the lockout to end. The message was loud and clear: We want our league back. Wish granted.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: 90. Another conservative estimate if you used the immediate (and wildly giddy) reaction on Twitter when news of a tentative deal broke about 3 a.m. A season that will start glamorously thanks to a Christmas Day slate and fall just 16 games shy of the norm I really don't think that much momentum has been lost no matter how interminable and bitter these past five months have seemed.
3. Who should be the happiest player(s) in the NBA tonight?
Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Jimmer Fredette and the rest of the NBA's rookies. They've been playing for free in college, so they don't know what they've lost in the deal. The NBA has been a lifelong dream -- now they get to live it. From training camp, to their first contract, to their first game to the paychecks, I don't think there was a rookie in the league that wanted this to last another day.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Chris Paul. In my lifetime, I've rarely seen someone as fiery and competitive as Chris Paul is. He dragged a healing knee all over the court last season on his way to reclaiming his spot among the NBA's elite. This season, he gets to prove that a healthy Chris Paul is an extremely dangerous Chris Paul.
Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: Every rookie. Faced with the prospect of a lost season of salary and talent, the end of the NBA lockout means these guys can finally earn their first professional paycheck, and get dunked on by their first professional NBA player.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: LeBron James. The Heat forward must be over the moon now that his road to on-court redemption appears set to begin Dec. 9. Things ended very badly for Akron's favorite son last year, damaging his rep in a serious way. It's rare that the game's best player becomes the butt of so many jokes. But that's what he was after his fourth-quarter disappearing act in the Finals. Sitting out a year would only have prolonged the misery.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Dirk Nowitzki. He just got two months of unforeseen rest after rushing from the longest playoff run of his life straight to the European championships and now his Dallas Mavericks will start the season on Christmas Day with the privilege of hosting a ring ceremony and banner-raising while the Miami Heat are required to be in the same building.
4. Fact or Fiction: The new schedule sounds about right.
Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Fact. Sixty-six games in 3½ months? It will be crazy. But it had to be. If the league lost any more games, both sides lost money. The product may be rough for a month or two and we'll likely see more injuries. But some bad basketball is better than no basketball at all.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Fact. I'd love to break down the schedule, worry whether condensing the season into 66 games is the correct thing to do, and figure out whether older teams can withstand the physical stress of a shortened season. But we're getting more than 50 games after fearing there wouldn't be any. The new schedule sounds perfect to me.
Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: Fiction. It's fine for one season. I'm actually an advocate of shortening the full season to 72 games, but spread out over the span of the current 82-game model. A 66-game season will do for now, but it's obviously just as a one-season stopgap. The ideal season is a full one.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Fact. We'll see too many back-to-backs, but it's not too much to ask well-rested players to squeeze 66 games into four months. Most guys are so eager to get back at it they likely won't be too bothered by any potential mental fatigue.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Fiction. Any season that doesn't span 82 games will never sound quite "right" to this sappy purist. But that doesn't stop me from saying that a 66-game schedule sounds sensational at the same time. The reality is that there wasn't going to be a season at all if they didn't come out of this weekend with a deal. And there were plenty of reasons to be pessimistic going into Friday's meetings. So now is not the time to focus on the outbreaks of bad basketball that such a compacted schedule is bound to produce.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Mavs will beat the Heat in the NBA Finals again.
Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Fiction. Reverse the order of those two teams and you have my prediction: Heat over Mavericks in six games. Though, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Thunder or the Grizzlies replace Dallas in the West.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Fiction. We might not see either team make it to the NBA Finals. We might get the Lakers and Celtics, or the Bulls and Thunder, or any glorious combination you can dream of. We just don't know yet. What we do know is basketball is back and the game we love can be celebrated like it deserves. Welcome back, NBA. We missed you.
Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: Fiction, I think. The aging Mavericks have a better shot with a shortened season than they would have with 82 games, but I don't see Dallas catching lightning in a bottle twice. But there's still a lot of free agency and player movement to come before Christmas Day.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. The Mavs' window is all but slammed shut. Or at least it will be when they run into the buzzsaw that is the Oklahoma City Thunder. The young guns are the league's most talented and hungry team. They'll avenge their playoff loss to Dallas to advance to the Finals, signaling a major power shift on the NBA landscape. Once there, the Thunder will defeat the Heat in seven games.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Fiction. If only because it's too soon to say whether Tyson Chandler will be lining up next to Nowitzki on Opening Night. Ask me again when we know if Chandler -- one of the league's top three free agents along with Nene and David West when the market opens Dec. 9 -- is staying in Dallas.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Chad Ford, Chris Palmer and Marc Stein cover the NBA for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Zach Harper and Devin Kharpertian contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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