International ball? Save it for the preseason

Brian Erni

Let’s just say what a lot of us have been thinking the past few days: this trip to London is kind of stupid.

On Tuesday, the NBA UK PR machine was churning on all cylinders, as the Nets exchanged jerseys with Chelsea FC and Brooklyn saw the sights (which are spectacular). Seriously, this is nothing against London. It’s one of my favorite cities on the planet. But the idea of making two teams trudge across the Atlantic for a single game to showcase the sport makes me a little crazy.KG chelsea

Do I understand why they’ve done it? Of course. Internationalize the game, they say. The NBA isn’t the only league guilty of the seductive idea of gaining traction overseas. The NFL makes two teams make the pilgrimage to Wembley Stadium every season, and they’ll expand that to six teams in 2014. Major League Baseball usually opens their season overseas (the Dodgers and Diamondbacks play two games in Australia to start 2014), and has been doing so as far back as 1999 (with a brief break post-9/11 and Iraq war). Looking at the anecdotes around those experiments, bringing traditionally-American sports to the international market have proven pretty successful. But those leagues do it differently.

When MLB opens up overseas, it’s usually two weeks before the regular schedule begins, putting teams in a weird position to actually play more Spring Training games after they’ve played two regular season ones. But that also allows players to re-acclimate and recover from jet lag without using up off days during the season. The NFL is a once-a-week deal, so off days are off days. Is there any different if the Giants have to fly five hours to California or five hours to London? Not really. When the NBA sent teams all across the world in the preseason, that was one thing. Players had time to  get their footing before the season; they could skip a practice or preseason game to get back in the groove.

But the Nets, who played four games in six days last week — and showed the effects of that, as seen in the second half Saturday against Toronto — will burn six off days for one game. Six. Brooklyn has three days in a row without a game later this month from the 28th-30th and the All Star break gives them a five day reprieve. That will be all for longer breaks in the second half. Every other lay over between games is no more than two days.

Give the schedule makers their due: they did a decent job building around this. The Nets final West Coast swing comes right off the All Star break, so the strain of the  five game, nine day trip to Utah, Golden State, L.A., Portland, and Denver is minimized. But that still seems like a decent amount of cramming, especially down the stretch (the Nets have four back-to-backs in April). And since the Nets — who are an older team as it is — have played themselves into a position that they have to stay hot to capture the Atlantic crown and set themselves up for a postseason run, this international showcase doesn’t do them many favors.

The coaches aren’t thrilled about it, and if you read between the lines of one player’s comments about an NBA team in London, most of the locker room probably isn’t on board either. The only positive is it gives Deron Williams some time to rest, but otherwise, I think the NBA needs to keep their international showcases in the preseason.




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