Lockout League takes shape in Vegas

At its very best sports serves as escapist entertainment.

When times are tough and families are having trouble filling up the gas tank or paying the mortgage, it's always nice to turn on the tube and pick your poison whether it's getting lost in something mindless like Jersey Shore, Tom Cruise's latest action flick or LeBron versus Kobe.

It remains to be seen whether any of us will be watching basketball this November but there is still a chance that the 2011-12 NBA season will be played in its entirety.

In fact, NBPA president Derek Fisher sparked some serious optimism recently, reportedly sending out a text to NBA players telling them to stay in shape in case the owners and players can settle their differences soon. That came on the heels of Roger Mason's now famous tweet in which the union vice president wrote, "Looking like a season. How u."

Both Fisher and Mason have backed off a bit with Fisher Tweeting "While the reports of my texts are false, I will say that I have & will continue to urge our players to stay ready for a season," and Mason claiming his account was hacked but things are at least moving, presumably in the right direction.

Whatever happens the owners' current lockout of the players has already taken a number of casualties with Summer League basketball likely the highest profile, at least to the casual fan.

That's about to change thanks to Joe Abunassar, the self-proclaimed "trainer to the pros."

Abunassar and his IMPACT Basketball Training Academy will be hosting its own Vegas Summer League starting Monday at the Venetian Resort.

Abunassar started as a team manager under Bobby Knight at Indiana in the early 90s before moving on to coaching and then training, cultivating relationships with such stars as Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce and many others.

He's got enough cachet these days to convince over 60 NBA players to attend and play competitive games that will be televised via streaming on the Internet over a two-week period.

Some of the names IMPACT has lured to play include Billups, John Wall, Rashard Lewis, Mo Williams, Kyle Lowry, Jermaine O'Neal, Corey Maggette, Zach Randolph, and Stephen Jackson along with a number of 2011 Draft picks like Derrick Williams, Iman Shumpert and Kawhi Leonard.

"Never before in the off-season have so many great players come together to train and play. I am thrilled to be able to provide our world-class training environment and system to so many great players," Abunassar said.

Abunassar's description is a little bit of a stretch of course since NBA- sanctioned summer leagues always have all the draft picks playing as well as the promising young stars on each team but the "Lockout League" will certainly provide the fan tired of his daily accounting updates with a nice little diversion.

"This will be an amazing two weeks for all of us NBA players who have been working and training hard all summer to get together and have a chance to really get after it on the court against some of the best players in the league," Billups said.

It's also an opportunity for players that don't have access to their team's facilities or training staffs to stay in shape and rehabilitate any nagging injuries.

Bulls guard and "Sin City" native C.J. Watson, who had foot surgery earlier this summer, is excited about the competition.

"It's NBA players coming out and playing on teams to stay in shape because of the lockout," Watson told CSNChicago.com. "A lot of players just come to Vegas, so it's good."