— If the lockout isn't going anywhere, then perhaps we at least can learn from it.
In most years, the inclination is to mock the street ball and pro-am games of July and August as mere novelties, an affront to the structure that follows when camps open and NBA sensibilities take over.
Yet this summer, amid the uncertainty of what might follow next, the Drew League, the Dyckman League, the Goodman League and Rucker Park have drawn unusual inspection.
The defense has been minimal. The play sets non-existent. Halfcourt ball the exception. Coaching an abstract.
And the scoring totals? Preposterous, from the likes of Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, James Harden, Michael Beasley, George Hill, John Wall.
Get past the lack of organization and even the court itself, and what you see are fans, true fans expressing an appreciation seldom seen in the front rows of antiseptic and elitist NBA arenas.
What NBA players and pro prospects have achieved this summer is something that should not be overlooked: They have bonded with fans at a time when fans have never felt more alienated from an NBA more concerned with collective-bargaining and basketball-related income than crossovers and no-looks.
If a new CBA is reached in coming days or weeks (as unlikely as that appears), the magic of the schoolyards and rec gyms will be forgotten soon enough, written off as just another summertime exaggeration of the sport.
But if the playground play continues, if these casual games continue to break out in SoCal and D.C. and Harlem and elsewhere amid the locked-out NBA universe, perhaps they shouldn't be written off so hastily.
Perhaps this is exactly what the truest fans want, a game of simplicity and flow, of style and artistry that transcends the pick-and-roll pabulum of NBA play.
Going into most training camps, all we hear are coaches who plan to stress a running game, push the pace, let the players play. Among the reasons Minnesota has yet to hire a coach at this late date is the insistence of Timberwolves president David Kahn to find someone wed to a running game, to break the shackles of Kurt Rambis' failed bid with the ultra-deliberate triangle.
In fact, when Kobe had his 43-point effort in a unofficial Drew League all-star event, including the tiebreaking basket in what had been a 137-137 tie, it was the rare look at what could have been had Bryant not been confined by the triangle. (Yes, he's scored more before in Phil Jackson's offense, but in a game that featured 276 points?)
Watch most NBA games and the sideline scene is familiar after a team secures a defensive rebound, particularly a long defensive rebound. There, by the bench, is a coach frantically waving his arms, imploring his players to push the pace, to run, not to wait for a play set.
But then watch closer, and, invariably, the ball is sent back to the point guard, the pace is slowed, a play call is sought, coaches offering a variety of hand signals, and the slog of the NBA is put in motion. Pass and cut away. Screen for the screener. Methodical. Predictable. Robotic.
The focus of the NBA, although not to the degree of the college game, all too often is on the coaches, of Gregg Popovich getting the ball into the post, of Erik Spoelstra signaling pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, of Stan Van Gundy offering guttural sounds.
And those who dare allow the offense to simply happen, be it the Paul Westheads of previous generations or the Mike D'Antonis of this generation, are generally derided as too simplistic, too one-dimensional in their approach.
There was a certain joy in this June's NBA finals in the randomness of the Mavericks' 3-point attempts. Were those good shots by Jason Terry or J.J. Barea? Who cares? They went in.
And for all the open-court electricity conducted by the Heat through much of their postseason run, when they allowed the pace to slow, when they allowed the Mavs to settle into their zone defense, the theatrics of Dwyane Wade and LeBron were lost.
While Billy Hunter and the union board consider counterproposals, while David Stern and his ownership team continue to try to whittle away at the players' share of the salary pie, coaches no doubt are working the Xs and Os in their video-room bunkers at team facilities across the league.
There, the likes of Doc Rivers are coming up with even more ingenious sideline-out-of-bounds plays. Tom Thibodeau's defensively deranged staffers are devising traps and double-teams.
Soon these summer gyms will close, giving way to the kids who play the game for the exercise and the joy during recess.
Yet this summer has offered a lesson gained, one that should not be lost when NBA play resumes:
This game is meant to be fun. It flourishes in its most simplistic form, best when the players, not the coaches, are the focus.
In other years, summer ball could easily be dismissed, particularly when run concurrently with various NBA-sanctioned summer leagues and team summer camps. But this year, with the influx of top-tier NBA talent, possibilities were offered of a game played at speed, with flow and personality, a game that connected with those too engrossed to become disenfranchised by the external bickering over salary cap and wage scale.
The NBA went back to school this summer. And there was a worthwhile lesson to be learned.