NEW YORK – If an NBA head coach wants to rest his star players, he should do it one at a time, especially from marquee games on the league’s nationally televised schedule. Oh, and if possible, do it at home.
Those two guidelines – intended to alleviate some of the controversy that flared up this season over Golden State, Cleveland and other teams resting their heavy-usage (and best-known) players, to the chagrin of ticket-buying customers and the NBA’s broadcast partners – came out of this week’s discussion at the Board of Governors meetings, commissioner Adam Silver said Friday.
Also, Silver announced that Charlotte now is eligible to host the 2019 All-Star Game, in the wake of North Carolina’s recent repeal of House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill.” The NBA had pulled this year’s showcase game and All-Star Weekend events, moving them to New Orleans, in opposition to the HB2 legislation it felt discriminated against LGBT individuals, both in legal protections and in mandating restroom use in government-run buildings.
Charlotte, after resubmitting its application, still will be vetted along the usual All-Star lines. The NBA then will require that hotels, sponsors and others participating in the event sign on to an anti-discrimination policy it develops. “If those requirements are met,” Silver said, “it’s our expectation the All-Star Game will be there in 2019.”
The league’s updated stance on Charlotte and North Carolina, where it conducts business both through the Hornets’ franchise and the D-League entry in Greensboro, is consistent with the NCAA’s and Atlantic Coast Conference’s reconsideration of the state as a site for future championship games.
The matter of rest for healthy players, as a way of battling fatigue and fending off injuries, might not be specific to the NBA either. But from San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich’s early “work” in this area to outcries in March when the Warriors and the Cavaliers sat out stars such as Steph Curry, LeBron James, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving from prime-time ABC telecasts on consecutive Saturdays, this is the league which has generated most of the furor and caught most of the flak.
Silver had issued a memo to the 30 teams on March 20 calling the issue of rest “an extremely significant issue for our league,” a move widely perceived as a shot across the bow to the sort of wholesale sit-downs perpetrated by Golden State and Cleveland. That put the topic on the agenda this week and generated discussion that went places Silver and the owners might not have anticipated.
“The science is much less clear than I thought it would be,” the commissioner said. “And there are different philosophies from different organizations, in some cases from storied GMs vs. other GMs, and coaches who have different approaches.”
While Silver has been persuaded by medical data linking fatigue and player health, not all of it points in one direction. Even what would qualify as a “nuclear option” of reducing the regular season from 82 games – with considerable impact on the league’s, the owners’, the coaches’ and the players’ pocketbooks – might not guarantee a better product or fewer injuries.
“I don’t think we’re at the point at all where we can say this is a clear science, that if a player plays 25 games and rests for three days, that decreases the likelihood of an injury by 26 percent,” Silver said.
“There were predictions that players who were involved with national competitions in the summer would have an increased rate of injury,” he added. “We haven’t seen that data, either. And I’ve talked to some players in the league, some of our greatest All-Stars, who said that they felt when they didn’t play, it put them out of rhythm and actually increased their likelihood of being injured.”
That’s why the matter will get further attention this summer when the Board of Governors and the Competition Committee meet. That’s also why Silver didn’t feel the need to impose any hard-and-fast rules now, aided by the reality that resting isn’t an issue that comes up much in the postseason.
Sitting stars en masse might be a coach’s preference, if he’s willing to sacrifice one game rather than several to get his guys rest, but that’s what sparked the outcry when the Warriors’ Steve Kerr and the Cavaliers’ Tyronn Lue did it a week apart last month. The argument for resting players at home is two-fold: Home fans have 41 opportunities to see their team’s players vs. one or two visits by an opposing star. Also, home fans have a vested interest in keeping their players as healthy and fresh as possible for the playoffs.
Silver reminded reporters and viewers of the news conference on NBA TV that the league will add an extra week into the 2017-18 calendar, while shortening the preseason schedule to a maximum of six games. That will aid in further reducing the number of back-to-back situations, and all but eradicating the dreaded four-games-in-five-nights gauntlets that used to be more common.
This season, NBA teams averaged 16.3 sets of back-to-back games, down from 19.3 in 2014-15. Silver said he hopes back-to-backs will drop again in 2017-18 by about two fewer sets per team.
He said it’s possible that conflicts on arena dates might result in perhaps one occurrence of four games in five nights – one total, not per team – on next season’s schedule. Beyond that, Silver said, they likely will be eliminated.
Another target in scheduling 1,230 games in 29 cities across six months will be trying to clear out nights immediately before and after a team is booked for one of the marquee telecasts on ABC, ESPN or TNT.
Said Silver: “We [at] the league office can do a better job at looking at, obviously, the prior night in terms of back-to-back, but also the several days leading up to that game so that players are at peak performance for those games.”
Tanking – lottery-bound teams willing to lose games in an attempt to improve their draft position – came up this week, too. “A different kind of resting,” Silver called it, saying it also is a serious – and not new – issue for the league.
Said the commissioner: “The larger subject of the lottery, the odds for the lottery, how so-called lottery picks are protected [in trades] ... that is something that we discussed at our board meeting and agreed that we need to revisit it in a holistic way.”
In other business at the Governors meeting, the league will expand for the 2017 playoffs the “Last Two Minutes” officiating reports to be issued for any game within three points at any time in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or of overtime. Currently, the reports are triggered for all games within five points at the two-minute mark of the final quarter or of OT.
While some critics have wondered why the last two minutes matter more than, say, a game’s first 46, the league wanted a specific protocol for commenting on what it felt were the most scrutinized calls in games. For qualifying games this season through April 5, the NBA pegged the referees’ call accuracy (actual whistles) at 98 percent and their event accuracy (both called and not called plays) at 91.3 percent in the periods covered by the reports.
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