OAKLAND – Teams in The Finals rightly can feel validated in everything they did to reach this point – including resting star players on regular-season game nights, one of the league’s more recent controversies.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors both, well, “were guilty of” might be too harsh a way to frame it. So let’s say they both embraced the relatively new tactic of “DNP-Rest” on more than one occasion this season, infuriating some ticket buyers as they focused on the arguable greater good of June basketball.
It worked. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was right, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the pros and cons of resting in his annual pre-Finals news conference Thursday at Oracle Arena.
“I don't think we're asking anything differently of our fans,” Silvers said, after citing research that suggests All-Stars in 2017 are playing about as many games per season as All-Stars did 30 years ago. “And, in fact, look, we have a league of 450 of the best players in the world. I think it's always been part of this league and it's part of every sport that players rest occasionally.”
Transparency has been a priority for Silver since he took over as commissioner in 2014, and at least the candor about rest is an improvement over teams claiming “tendinitis” or “flu-like symptoms” for players who sat out games in the past. Silver also noted the reward reaped by the Warriors and the Cavaliers.
“Here we are going into The Finals with a No. 1 seed in the West, No. 2 seed in the East, two teams that obviously had tremendous regular seasons, and every player is healthy,” he said. “So I don't necessarily think the fan benefits by somehow if the league could require a player, who wasn't injured but was banged up, to play in a game when the trainers felt that player needed rest. I don't think the fan benefits by requiring that player to play and then that player getting injured.”
The regular season will start a week sooner this fall, reducing preseason games to a maximum of six per club and adding seven extra days to the schedule to further cut down on the number of back-to-back games. Also, the league is working with arenas throughout the league to free up more available dates, for more flexible scheduling.
Silver previously had informed teams of “guidelines” that he hoped they would heed when resting players. One would be to not rest multiple players on the same night. Another: sit out star players from home games, rather than road games where a fan might have only one, and at most two, opportunities to see those players each season.
As for the possibility of stretching the season even longer, Silver said the NBA would see how the extra week works first.
“My desire is not to be giving this press conference in July,” he said.
There were other topics addressed at the one Silver gave Thursday night, including:
- As the NBA’s developmental league, to be known as the Gatorade League going forward, nears a 1-to-1 affiliation ratio with the 30 NBA teams, using it to house and train the league’s youngest players will become more of a priority. But that won’t solve issues teams face when new hires lack the skills and know-how to contribute.
This is especially critical, given NBA figures that suggest 20 of the 60 players drafted later this month will be “one-and-done” prospects arriving just one year removed from high school. In 2006, the first draft with that requirement, there were two, Silver said.
"I don't think we should just focus on 18 to 19, I think we got to look younger, at the whole AAU system,” the commissioner said. “I understand I shouldn't use a broad brush to criticize the entire AAU system, because parts of it are excellent, but also parts of it are very broken. Especially this relates to injuries in the league. What we're seeing is a rash of injuries among young players. What our orthopedics are telling us is they're seeing wear-and-tear issues in young players that they didn't used to see until players were much older.
“We know that these young players – now, this is before college – are playing in AAU programs, sometimes eight and 10 games in a weekend. Of course Little League has pitch counts. AAU does not have the equivalent.”
Silver said the NBA would put together a task force to study ways to address AAU issues.
- Silver called the vandalism this week of the house Cleveland star LeBron James owns in Los Angeles, in which the N-word racial slur was paint, “a sad state of affairs.” He said the NBA can play a role in demonstrating to most people (not necessarily to the lunatic fringe) how little racial differences ultimately mean.
- “I think about this platform we have in sports and that this is an opportunity to continue to unify people,” Silver said, “to demonstrate to people – they see it out on the floor – what it means to run a system where there is a true, or as close as we have in our society to true, egalitarian system. Where people are judged entirely on merit. And I think there's a role we can continue to play in society as a unifier.”
- Sorry, Seattle and Las Vegas, expansion is not on the NBA’s radar at the moment. Concerns over competitive balance that have been highlighted this postseason – with Cavs-Warriors III underway – are more pressing than adding teams for even more “dilution of talent,” Silver said.
“I have no doubt at some point we'll turn back to it, but at least in my last discussions with our owners on this, most of them said let's keep focusing on the health of these 30 teams and the quality of the competition,” he said. “When we feel we're in a better place with the 30 teams we have, maybe at that point we can look to expand.”
- Remember “tanking?” It didn’t vanish this season as teams jockeyed for lottery position. “It drives me crazy,” Silver said. “There's no doubt about it, there's a certain amount of gamesmanship that's going on with our teams in terms of resting of healthy players at the end of the season.”
The league has proposed further tweaks to the lottery system to its Board of Governors, without finding a solution. One NBA fans won’t see: “We're not at the point where we're going to have relegation to the Gatorade League, the way they do in Europe,” Silver joked. “That would stop it, but we're not prepared to do that.”
- Silver shared a bit from a conversation with Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who isn’t working the sideline for the Warriors while dealing with a spinal issue and other complications. “I've known Steve for probably close to 25 years, and my heart goes out to him, he said. “As Steve said, this should be one of the great moments of his storied basketball career, and instead he's going to be sitting in the locker room rather than being out on the floor coaching his team.”
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