CHICAGO – As two of the NBA’s hot-button issues – “tanking” and “resting,” as they’ve become known in short form – collided head-on late in the 2016-17 season, commissioner Adam Silver sounded as if he’d reached his breaking point.
“It drives me crazy,” Silver said on the eve of the Finals. “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.”
That sort of gamesmanship might get addressed in a matter of days, according to a report by ESPN.com. Citing league sources, the story by Adrian Wojnarowski said the NBA’s Competition Committee has recommended changes in draft lottery odds and rules, while firming up guidelines on when, where and how many players a team should rest on a given night.
Silver and the committee met Thursday in advance of the annual head coaches meetings in downtown Chicago. Their proposals will be discussed and likely voted on by the 30 franchise owners at the preseason Board of Governors meeting in New York on Sept. 28.
In April, the ongoing irritant about coaches resting otherwise healthy players – especially more than one star player at a time, on the road, and/or from nationally televised games – to avoid injuries that might derail a playoff push intersected with tanking (losing by design as a tactic to improve draft lottery position).
The newest wrinkle? Bad teams sitting players as a belt-and-suspenders way of facilitating defeats, hoping to benefit from the league’s lottery system.
As Silver noted when he met with reporters in Oakland before Game 1 of the Cleveland-Golden State rubber-match championship series, striking a balance between the stated purpose of a draft (to deliver talent to the weakest teams) and the competition to win that’s essential in a successful sports league has been a challenge since the 1980s. That’s when the NBA created the lottery in hopes of discouraging teams from intentionally losing games to participate in what long had been a two-team coin flip for the No. 1 draft pick.
Opening up the top draft spots to all non-playoff teams, with the league’s worst team having no better than a 25 percent chance of snagging the top player, had an unintended consequence of luring more teams into giving less-than-robust efforts. Or, in the case of the Philadephia 76ers, embracing losing as a strategy, taking lumps repeatedly for several seasons to round up a core of young, promising and cost-controlled players.
As for resting, that first flared up on the NBA in November 2012 when San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich didn’t even bring four key players to Miami for a highly anticipated TNT game against the Heat. Then-commissioner David Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 for what he called “a disservice to the league and our fans,” specifically criticizing Popovich’s failure to inform the league or the Heat in a timely fashion.
But other instances of the new “DNP-rest” stat-sheet designation left fans – TV viewers and especially ticket buyers – feeling burned when they’d see a marquee name sitting in street clothes. Consider consecutive Saturdays in March, with the NBA promoting a series of ABC prime-time games. On March 11, Golden State coach Steve Kerr sat out Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. A week later, Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue did not use LeBron James, Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love.
By the end of the regular season, the lowly Brooklyn Nets were “resting” starters Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin from their final game in Chicago. That led to blowout victory for the Bulls, who thus bumped Miami from the playoffs by a tiebreaker despite the Heat’s valiant 4-1 mark in the final week.
Silver had shouldered some of the responsibility, responding to complaints about heavy game schedules, including back-to-back demands and four-games-in-five nights. This offseason, the NBA expanded the schedule by an extra week and accommodated it by starting a week earlier, cutting preseason games down from eight to a maximum of six (some teams will play fewer).
It worked to find extra arena dates, too, to increase off days to facilitate rest. In particular, the league committed to sparing teams booked for national telecasts on TNT, ABC and ESPN from playing the night before or the night after.
When Silver spoke about the issue at the most recent Governors meeting in July in Las Vegas, it was clear that he felt the league was doing its part to cooperate with the teams. That led to what he described as guidelines – “the right line between cajoling and new requirements,” the commissioner called then – that will encourage coaches not to rest multiple players from the same game, to sit guys at home rather than on the road and to avoid such nights off on network games.
In this week’s proposals to the Board of Governors, Silver will be empowered to fine teams that don’t heed those guidelines, the ESPN story reported.
It also offered details on the proposed lottery revisions, which would go into effect for the 2019 Draft. They include revised odds that would give the three worst teams the same 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick (currently, 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent).
Those teams also would be assured of drafting no lower than fifth, sixth or seventh, respectively, if other non-playoff teams won the top positions. Each would be one spot worse than in the current system.
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