NBA comes up with its own holiday rush
The insanity began not long after the lockout ended.
Neil Olshey’s days would start with 6 a.m. calls to agents on the East Coast.
The Clippers’ executive vice president of basketball operations then worked his way across the time zones, contacting agents based in Chicago and Dallas before eventually reaching Los Angeles. Sometimes he didn’t make his last call until midnight, his work attempting to woo top players seemingly never done.
“It really became like you were in this weird world of kind of grabbing a couple of hours of sleep here and there and then getting back on calls again,” Olshey said, “because you just couldn’t let an opportunity pass.”
Olshey had it easy compared to Troy Murphy. The free agent forward signed with the Lakers on a Saturday, had his first practice on a Sunday and played in his first exhibition game on a Monday.
“I brought three bags and have only one opened up,” said Murphy, who was living out of a hotel. “The other two, I don’t even know what’s in them.”
Welcome to the NBA’s compressed training camp/free agency scrum.
NBA training camps that usually last a month were shortened to 16 days, with a corresponding free-agency period leaving teams unsure of what their roster might look like at any given moment.
Boston practiced with fewer than 10 players for three days. The Lakers had a makeshift roster that included unknowns Zack Andrews, Chris Daniels and Elijah Millsap.
There wasn’t any doubt about the impetus for the epic cram session.
“For sure, they crunched it up to get that opening day on Christmas,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “That’s good ratings for them.”
We’re talking Boston versus New York, Dallas versus Miami, Lakers versus Chicago, Orlando versus Oklahoma City and Clippers versus Golden State in a TV lineup sure to leave plenty of coins jingling in the NBA’s pockets.
League spokesman Tim Frank pointed out the NBA Players’ Assn. agreed to the Christmas start and ensuing 66-game schedule, meaning everyone was on board with the craziness, at least in theory.
“We wouldn’t have started on Christmas,” Frank said, “unless we were confident that the teams would be ready to begin the regular season.”
Do the Lakers look ready?
They will have had little more than two weeks and only two exhibition games to learn the offensive and defensive schemes preferred by new Coach Mike Brown. Murphy and fellow free agent Josh McRoberts, who also joined the team late, will have had considerably less prep time than that.
McRoberts said he wished the league had held its free-agency period before camps commenced Dec. 9.
“It’s almost like you’re treated like a holdout in that sense where you’re kind of punished for being a free agent, because I would have loved to have been in camp the first day,” said McRoberts, who signed a two-year, $6.2-million contract. “You kind of start behind the eight ball, being behind a little bit.”
Frank said the free-agency period coincided with camps to give players the maximum time possible on the practice court. But the Clippers didn’t hold their first practice with what is probably going to be their opening-day roster until last Saturday.
“We weren’t really blessed with that much time to do it any different unless you wanted less games, so it kind of is what it is,” said guard Chauncey Billups, who joined the Clippers after being waived by the New York Knicks.
“The good thing about it is we’re not the only team that’s dealing with it; everybody is. All the things we’re complaining about, they’re dealing with it too.”
The Clippers’ Olshey credited his staff and Coach Vinny Del Negro, a former front-office executive with the Phoenix Suns, for making sure he stayed focused on big prizes when it would have been easy to settle for stocking stuffers amid the free-agent frenzy.
“We basically took July, August and September and condensed it into like a five-day span,” Olshey said.
It was a productive whirlwind. The Clippers re-signed starting center DeAndre Jordan in addition to acquiring Billups, small forward Caron Butler and Chris Paul, the point guard also coveted by the Lakers.
At least it will be a merry Christmas for somebody.
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