NEW YORK – The commotion over healthy NBA players randomly sitting out regular season games for rest has simmered down.
The final week of the regular season, in fact, is when we’re long accustomed to seeing heavy-usage performers held out of a game or two, assuming their teams already have secured playoff berths. Then the playoffs push a reset button for everybody – except for lottery-bound teams, whose players can hang up hammocks for months if they like.
Just because the controversial issue is largely out of sight doesn’t mean it’s out of mind. With the NBA’s Board of Governors in midtown Manhattan for its annual April meetings Thursday and Friday, the topic of rest – and how to balance the needs of the league’s many constituencies – is very much in play.
Coaches opting to rest their stars, the players who carry the heaviest workloads and on whom they rely most, has been an open source of irritation around the NBA since November 2012. That’s when the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich didn’t just hold out four key players from a TNT Thursday night game against the Heat – he had Tim Duncan, Manu Ginboli, Tony Parker and Danny Green skip Miami entirely, sending them home early near the end of a six-game trip.
Then-commissioner David Stern fined the San Antonio franchise $250,000 for what he termed “a disservice to the league and our fans." He spoke of the Spurs’ failure to inform the Heat, the league or the media in a timely fashion, cited that the game was San Antonio’s only scheduled visit to Miami that season and likely factored in the impact on the audience for the NBA’s weekly TV showcase.
Other instances of “DNP-Rest” after that rankled fans, some upset to miss out on seeing a particular NBA star, others unhappy to have been charged premium ticket prices for marquee opponents only to witness a D-League level active roster.
The most egregious instances came on consecutive Saturdays in March. On March 11 in San Antonio, in a game pitting the West’s two top teams, Golden State’s Steve Kerr sat out Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. One week later, in Cleveland’s lone road game against the L.A. Clippers, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue did not play All-Stars Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving or LeBron James.
Take your pick: Whether you consider that two responsible head coaches managing their rosters to maximum benefit for their players and won-lost record or two chesty teams making statements to the NBA about the rigors of the regular-season schedule, the moves did not go over well.
Not with the league’s broadcast partners – ABC, ESPN and Turner Sports – who are in the first year of a nine-year contract for which they’re paying $24 billion. Not with fans who bought tickets for those games or had tuned in for the new prime-time Saturday night games on ABC. And not with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver issued a memo on March 20 to all 30 teams calling the resting of star players “an extremely significant issue for our league.” He had addressed the topic just weeks earlier at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, reminding everyone in his state-of-the-NBA news conference that preseason schedules had been cut back for next season from eight to six games and that an extra week of days essentially would be added to the regular season. That would further cut down on back-to-back scheduling and instances of four games in five nights, already reduced in recent seasons.
In the memo, which got leaked to multiple media outlets, Silver informed teams they would face severe penalties if they did not adhere to league protocols for player injuries and illnesses, mostly related to giving sufficient notice to the NBA, to opponents and to the media of planned player absences.
While Silver has been persuaded by medical and scientific data of a correlation between fatigue and injuries, he also is aware of the impact resting stars can have on TV ratings and the blemish it poses for the NBA product.
Fining teams who continue to do it doesn’t solve the problem, and shortening the regular season to 72 or 66 or some other reduced number of games would mean pay cuts for the owners, the players and everyone else employed by the league. Scheduling more carefully – as in, not requiring teams featured on important TV nights to be in the midst of a back-to-back situation – seems to be one possible solution.
But then, that’s why the issue went on the agenda for the Board’s Executive Session this week.
Other topics expected to be discussed, with follow-up when Silver meets with reporters Friday at the conclusion of the sessions, include the impact on future All-Star Game plans in Charlotte since North Carolina’s repeal of the HB2 “bathroom” law and a report on the new NBA2K e-sports league. The owners also were likely to get updates on the rebranded NBA Gatorade League (D League), on revenue sharing and collective-bargaining agreement issues and on the NBAs international player-development programs.
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