A swarm of Knicks, Clippers and Rockets players will soon descend on Las Vegas for two weeks of intense competition â€” only without coaches, contracts or the imprimatur of the NBA. Â Read more after the jump.
The jerseys will be unfamiliar, and the games fairly meaningless. But for the first time since June, N.B.A. players will be competing against N.B.A. players in something resembling an N.B.A.-caliber league.
The site will be the Impact BasketballÂ gymnasium, about two miles from the Strip. The unofficial commissioner will be Joe Abunassar, a longtime trainer of N.B.A. players. More than 40 players, locked out of N.B.A. facilities because of a labor standoff, have committed to play. Chauncey Billups, John Wall, Zach Randolph and Stephen Jackson will be among the headliners.
â€œThis is an effort on our part to get these guys as ready for training camp as they can get, without going to training camp,â€ Abunassar said in a phone interview. â€œThatâ€™s the allure of it.â€
The tournament has been named the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series. You could call it the Lockout League.
The N.B.A. season is in jeopardy because of a lockout that began July 1 and remains far from resolution. If no accord is reached in a few weeks, the N.B.A. will postpone camps and start canceling preseason games.
Abunassar wants to bridge the gap. Dozens of players make his gym their off-season home, playing pickup games after daily workouts. Abunassar is simply making the games a little more formal, and extending invitations to a few dozen more players.
As many as eight teams, featuring seven or eight players each, will play daily starting Sept. 12. The series will conclude with two days of playoffs, with a championship game on Sept. 23. Games will be officiated and played under N.B.A. rules, albeit with 10-minute quarters and without coaches barking from the benches.
The plan is to sell tickets (about 500 per day, with proceeds donated to charity) and to stream the games live on the Internet.
A number of stars â€” includingÂ Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo AnthonyÂ and Kevin Durant â€” have played exhibitions in Los Angeles, Washington and Baltimore. But unlike those pro-am events, Abunassarâ€™s league will feature solely N.B.A. players, multiple games and some expectation of defense.
Teams will be assembled with an eye toward parity, and with an emphasis on keeping N.B.A. teammates together. Billups will probably be joined by two other Knicks, Shawne Williams and Iman Shumpert. Another roster will feature at least four Rockets: Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes, Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee. Two Clippers, Mo Williams and DeAndre Jordan, will form the core of a team, with hopes that Blake Griffin, last seasonâ€™s rookie of the year, will join them.
Others who have committed include J. J. Hickson of the Cavaliers, Eric Maynor of the Thunder, Al Harrington of the Nuggets, Jermaine Oâ€™Neal of the Celtics and Jared Dudley of the Suns.
Box scores will be kept. Standings will be posted. The stakes may be minimal, but the egos will be active. The competition level should be much higher than the typical summer exhibition. This will not be an all-star game.
â€œThe way weâ€™re going to play â€” with all the N.B.A. guys, with a lot of intensity, with not making it a circus, so to speak,â€ Abunassar said. â€œThese guys are here to get the best basketball theyâ€™ve gotten.â€
If all goes well in Las Vegas â€” and if all goes poorly at the bargaining table â€” Abunassar will stage another two-week series in October, he said. And in November and December, if necessary.
Nothing can replace the intensity of an N.B.A. game. But these games will carry their own prize: bragging rights.
â€œIt will matter,â€ Abunassar said. â€œNo one wants to be in eighth place, thatâ€™s for sure. It might not matter to you and I, but it matters to them.â€