What are we to do about teams that “mass rest” large groups of players for games?
Saturday night’s game between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs was supposed to be one of those special regular season matchups, between two of the top three or four teams in the league -- and the two teams that have, all season, separated themselves from the rest of the Western Conference. Even with Kevin Durant out because of injury, there were still plenty of All-Stars on both rosters.
But, then, Kawhi Leonard went into the NBA’s concussion protocol, after getting hit by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Semaj Christon Thursday. Then, LaMarcus Aldridge was pulled from the game Saturday morning after he had a heart arrhythmia, something that had happened to him on separate occasions earlier in his career.
Those are injuries -- or, at least, conditions, however. Nothing can be done about those.
It was different, though, when Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced after Friday’s game in Minnesota that he’d be resting four players -- Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala -- against the Spurs, on the recommendation of the team’s athletic training staff, which monitors the load that each of the team’s players endures during the regular season.
With the Warriors in the midst of an insane stretch of the season -- eight games in 13 days, starting with a five-game East swing in eight days, a cross-country flight back to California, a single home game in Oakland last Wednesday, followed by a Thursday flight back over two time zones to Minnesota, followed by a game Friday against the Wolves, then a postgame flight to San Antonio, where the Warriors’ heads hit their hotel pillows very late (or early, depending on your point of view) Saturday morning -- just about everyone who’s played heavy minutes this season was in the red physically, much more susceptible to injuries than they’d be at other points of the season.
“It’s 100 percent health (related),” Kerr told local reporters. “I’ve been conferring with the training staff on every day on this trip. I ultimately deferred to Chelsea (Lane, the Warriors’ head of physical performance and sports medicine) and (performance coach and therapist) Mike Irr and (assistant athletic trainer) Drew Yoder.
“Biggest thing I asked them was the best game we can benefit from. Those four guys are high minutes guys. They said no doubt, it’s San Antonio. We’re going to get in at 3 a.m., those guys are playing big minutes and this will give them three days before our home game and then we’ll have a whole week at home next week to get recharged. It’s my call.”
So Kerr sat four of his key players, took the predictable spanking, and flew back home. One lost game out of 82 for any team is not that big a sacrifice, especially if giving some of its stars the night off replenishes their tanks and leaves them fresher for the rest of the season.
But what of the people who bought tickets at AT&T Center expecting to see the real Warriors team? And, especially, any children they bring who were expecting the same. Kids learn how to deal with disappointment; they aren’t born with it. Of some, though less, concern would be people watching at home. They were no doubt disappointed, but at least they hadn’t come out of pocket to be able to see the game, and they had other entertainment options. (No one cares about the problems of networks that broadcast the games and whose ratings suffered with the less-attractive game.)
It’s a conundrum -- especially if it’s the road team doing the mass resting. Everyone gets 41 shots to see the home team every regular season. Yes, it would be disappointing to miss your favorite player, but you’ll have a lot of other shots on other days. But what if it’s LeBron James’ or Curry’s or James Harden’s or Russell Westbrook’s only appearance in your city that year -- and it’s a proscribed day for them to get off their feet?
It is easy to sit in your Barcalounger and tell coaches like Kerr and Gregg Popovich -- who started the trend years ago with his Spurs, and whose jobs are dependent on their winning games and contending for championships -- that they’re wrong to rest players. And then, when a guy who pushed the pedal to the floor in the regular season falls apart physically in the playoffs because he’s got nothing left physically, fans are among the first to say ‘why did they play him so many minutes in the regular season? Why didn’t they do something?’
Former commissioner David Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 in 2012 after they sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home before a game in Miami. Stern said he issued the fine because the team didn’t inform the league or the Heat in a “timely way” before deciding to hold the players out. The move angered other teams, who believed the league was meddling into a team’s discretionary ability to sit who it believes needs to rest -- and who thought the fine was punishment doled out by the league because the Spurs-Heat game was a nationally televised TNT game.
So, what to do?
Here’s one solution. It’s not perfect. It won’t make everyone happy. But it’s one way to alleviate the disappointment that so many people, rightly, feel when their experience is devalued.
- Every team must, 24 hours before a game, officially inform the league if players will be held out of that for rest. Yes, that makes a tough decision even harder, especially if you have, say, a back-to-back set, and you haven’t even played the first game yet. But that notice is the price that teams using all these maintenance/performance people -- who can, as the Warriors’ staff did, predict weeks in advance when stars are likely to be running in the red physically -- have to start paying. Doing so allows fans who otherwise might buy tickets a better opportunity to bail, or at least sell their tickets in hand if they want.
- If a star player(s) is going to be held out for rest, he still must travel with the team. No sending the guy(s) home early. He’s not going to exhaust himself getting on and off the league charters that every team now uses, or walking off the bus to his suite at the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton or the W or whatever four-star hotel at which he stays (and at which, honestly, most of us who cover the league for television networks stay).
- The star player(s) must then take the team’s first bus to the arena before the game. Most teams on the road in the NBA still arrive in two buses. The first bus is usually sparsely by the guys at the end of the bench and one or two of a team’s younger assistants and/or player development people, who will run the players through a couple of drills and retrieve their shots. The second bus usually contains the starters, the top bench guys, the coach and his top assistants, maybe the local TV and radio guys. The first bus usually gets to the arena between two and three hours before tipoff.
- The star player(s) must, upon arrival to the arena, immediately go to the arena’s concourse and/or club level, to a predetermined area - which every team will decide upon before the season starts. With the 24-hours’ notice, each team would thus have time to “scramble” and activate said predetermined area for a sudden influx of people -- with appropriate security, egress and crowd control personnel -- in place to handle the flow of people.
- The star player(s) will then spend between 30 and 45 minutes with fans, with fans coming through a rope line to meet and shake hands with the star(s) and, if so desired, have a picture taken. No autographs; that would take too long (I don’t have a pen/ paper, can you sign my basketball/hat/kid too, etc.). The home team will provide the photographer. The home team will provide the person or family a card with a code; the person/family will be able to download the photo by linking to the team’s website and entering that code. Teams in all sports have this capability and use it; so do star musicians and actors who do “meet and greets” all the time for VIP ticket holders. The fan availability will end 45 minutes before tipoff, to give the star(s) a chance to get down to the locker room with their team.
- The league will provide t-shirts, hats and other such swag, gratis, to every fan in line.
Like I said, it’s not perfect. There will be people who can’t get to the arena that early, or can’t bring their kids. There will be people who say a handshake, picture and keychain aren’t enough. And they may have a point. But this is at least some way for fans to have an experience with their favorite players when their favorite players, through no fault of theirs, are in street clothes.
YOUR QUESTIONS ... DA'S ANSWERS
Queen bee, baby/Pray that you may be left on your own/Nothin' she'll give you, gonna outlive you/But the queen bee's never gonna be alone. From Tiffany Davis:
Low-key rumors are buzzing (ha!) about Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford being on the hot seat, due to the Hornets' free fall. But what about Hornets GM Rich Cho? His Airness can't be pleased at the choices made thus far (even though he signed off on them, but I digress) to get Kemba Walker the help he so desperately needed -- and didn't get. Injuries can't be controlled (bless Cody Zeller, Ramon Sessions, & Miles Plumlee), but Nicolas Batum hasn't really lived up to all that money they threw at him, as anticipated (which resulted in Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee leaving -- another mistake, IMHO, but again, I digress). And while Frank Kaminsky III has stepped up in a major way this season, neither the other incumbents Not Named Kemba on, or trade additions to, the roster have helped produced the expected effect: which was to see the Hornets return to the postseason and make a significant run, at that. Thoughts?
Not sure how you can single out Cho for criticism when he’s only executing what his boss -- Jordan -- has okayed. It’s easy to second-guess giving Batum the big deal, but a lot of other teams would have given him their version of the max to leave Charlotte -- and, Batum’s numbers aren’t all that much off from last season’s. The problem is, as you noted, they had to let Lee and Lin go to be able to afford Batum, and the Hornets’ replacements for those two haven’t produced as well as they did last season. That’s life in today’s NBA; you can’t keep everyone. (Sessions getting hurt has really hurt the Hornets, too; they were counting on his ability to penetrate and not only create shots for others, but to draw fouls and get them in the penalty early in quarters.) Roy Hibbert didn’t work out in the middle, and maybe that’s on Cho/Clifford, but that doesn’t rise to a fireable offense.
Not one with The Process. From Drew Strumfels:
Seems like the Sixers got fleeced for Noel. They certainly have cap room to keep him on as an RFA this offseason and try to trade him next year. Why did they feel they had to move him now? Would Hinkie have made such a move?
Maybe. I’m not as enamored with Noel’s value as others, but he was a Lottery pick, he is a starting center and they did get substantially less than that in return. Still, they had to break up the logjam they had up front behind Joel Embiid. (They tried to move Jahlil Okafor as well, and almost had a deal with the Blazers that collapsed at the last minute.) And Philly wasn’t going to use cap room on Noel when it wants to be a player in free agency. As for Hinkie … he traded the Rookie of the Year (Michael Carter-Williams) the next season, so, hey, anything was possible.
Stick to the Schedule. From Mohammad Abu Ata:
There's always a demand from people that the number of games should be shortened, and coming from a Jordan-era NBA fan, I don't really understand the scheduling process for the teams. Like, the Spurs play the Warriors three times this season compared to four last season. Why not go the European football (soccer) route and make each team face the other 29 teams twice, once in each team's turf?
‘Cause that would only add up to a 58-game regular season, Mohammad, and there’s no way anyone -- players or owners -- is going to sign off on cutting the schedule back that many games. That would be almost a third fewer games, which means a third less salary, gate, concession sales, etc. No chance that happens. As for the in-conference schedule, the number of games against out-of-division opponents is determined by a five-year rotation.
(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)
1) James Harden (32.8 ppg, 6 rpg, 10.3 apg, .488 FG, .829 FT): Actually getting things done in less time this season: his current average of 36.5 minutes per game would be his lowest in five years.
2) Kawhi Leonard (27 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.5 apg, .545 FG, .947 FT): If there’s ever been a more impressive two-way stretch within 24 seconds of an NBA game than this, produce it.
3) Russell Westbrook (38 ppg, 9 rpg, 12 apg, .430 FG, .868 FT): Passes the Dipper for the second-most triple doubles in a season with his 32nd in Saturday’s win over Utah. Next: Oscar’s 41, in the triple-double season of 1961-62.
4) LeBron James (28.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 8.5 apg, .592 FG, .613 FT):Is this a serious argument?
5) Kevin Durant: (DNP -- knee injury).
BY THE NUMBERS
2 -- Players in Nets franchise history that have scored more than 10,000 career points. Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez became the second last week, joining Buck Williams, who scored 10,440 points in eight seasons with the franchise. (At first I was surprised that Jason Kidd wasn’t on the list, but I forgot that he only played six-plus seasons for the Nets, scoring 7,373 points for them before being traded to Dallas in 2007.)
3 -- Meetings that the Trail Blazers will have with the Minnesota Timberwolves -- just behind them in the West playoff chase -- in their last 11 games of the regular season. Minnesota and Portland will have an extra game on April 3 after their scheduled game in Minneapolis last week was cancelled because of condensation on the floor of Target Center.
54,736 -- Miles the Warriors will travel this season, the most of any team this season. Golden State flies more than any other team because Golden State is on national TV more than any other team -- 28 times this season.
I’M FEELIN’ … (NCAA Dominant Edition)
1) Congrats to Dirk Nowitzki for reaching the 30,000-point mark. It’s a testament to the man, his work ethic, his good fortune and his skill, all of which are off the charts.
2) Just love Championship Week, especially for the one-bid conferences, where a whole season comes down to three or four days. And if a team is fortunate enough to win the conference title, seeing those teams -- champions -- on Selection Sunday, with their students and fans sitting alongside them as they find out where they’re going, and truly believing, if even for that split second, that they’re going to beat their higher-ranked, more well-known opponent, is still so cool.
3) All Darrell Walker wanted was a chance to show he could coach a team. The former New York Knicks, Washington Bullets and Detroit Pistons guard couldn’t get an NBA job after not being retained as a Knicks assistant coach in 2014, and most college programs ignored him, too, even though he’d been a coach in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors and Wizards. But Walker got a shot at Division II Clark Atlanta University, which had won nine games in 2015-16. Walker won 21 this season for Clark, which beat Fort Valley State in the SIAC Tournament championship last week to make the Division II NCAA Tournament. Clark lost to Alabama-Huntsville in the first round Saturday, but Walker showed what he could do. Congrats to him and the young men.
4) That’s a pretty emotionally satisfying resolution to a draining and scary week, Michigan.
5) Dawn Staley is a great choice to replace Geno Auriemma as the U.S. women’s national team coach. Is there someone better out there than a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and assistant coach on the 2008 and 2016 teams? Staley, the coach at South Carolina, can relate to superstars and regular folk alike.
NOT FEELIN’ …
1) Basketball lost a great man Friday. Ben Jobe was an iconic coach, winning more than 500 games and 11 SWAC titles in more than three decades at six universities, most notably at Southern University, where he made the Jaguars into a powerhouse during his 12 years there.
Southern made four NCAA appearances and one NIT in Jobe’s first seven seasons, including 1993, when the 13th-seeded Jaguars beat the fourth-seeded Yellow Jackets, which had future NBA player Travis Best on the roster, by 15 in the first round of the NCAAs.
Jobe had NBA ties -- he was an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets in 1980, was close friends with Donnie Walsh; the two were assistants at South Carolina under the legendary Frank McGuire in the early ‘70s, and scouted for the Knicks. But Jobe said he realized quickly that the NBA wasn’t for him, and returned to college, where he could have more impact. And he did.
He sent Avery Johnson and the late Bobby Phills to the NBA, but he sent so many dozens more young men to other careers that were just as important. (The Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year award goes annually to the top minority head coach in Division I basketball.) Jobe was dismissive of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame over the years, mainly because of what he considered dismissive treatment of his mentor John McLendon, the legendary coach at Tennessee State who was the first coach to win three straight national championships (NAIA titles from 1957-59), and who was the first African-American head coach in professional basketball, with the Cleveland Pipers of the ABL in 1959. McLendon had been enshrined in the Hall in 1979, but as a contributor to the game. The Hall made that right in 2016, enshrining McLendon as a coach, making him the only person enshrined in the Hall in both categories. It is time, posthumously now, sadly, to put Ben Jobe in the Hall as well as a coach.
2) Know Andre Iguodala. Like Andre Iguodala. A lot. Smart, smart guy. It won’t surprise me at all if he becomes president of the players’ union after Chris Paul is done. Or, for that matter, if he becomes a Congressman. But when it comes to the N-word in the locker room, I remember, like it was yesterday, Bernard King stepping to two young Washington Bullets in the locker room in the late ‘80s who were throwing the word around as young black men often do, and saying ‘we don’t use that word in here.’ There were no cameras; I was the only reporter there, and I was on the other side of the room. It wasn’t done for any effect or good press. I was with King then. I’m with King now. Doesn’t matter if Iguodala was trying to be funny or sardonic or ironic. He shouldn’t have said it.
2a) And to Jeff Van Gundy’s point during Saturday’s broadcast that a white player who used the N-word would be disciplined by the league … um, yes. That’s right. As he should be. Question: under what circumstance would it be okay for a white player to use that word in conversation with reporters? My best friend is a white guy. It’s not cool for him to drop that word in conversation with me, even though I’d step in front of a bus for him (as he would for me). And he knows that. And Jeff knows that. I’d simply say that a discussion about that word is not something that can be done successfully in between plays of a basketball game. If you want to be informed, read the books by Randall Kennedy and Jabari Asim that take an historical look at the word’s usage. Read Dick Gregory’s autobiography, which does not. Listen to the stand up routines of Richard Pryor and Chris Rock, which approach the word from very different perspectives. Learn.
3) At some point, doesn’t Jim Dolan have to insist that the guy who insists on continually coming down and giving “pointers” on the triangle -- and who Dolan is paying $12 million a year -- just coach the team already?
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