Once again, while players sit, others are standing and screaming.
The latest happened Saturday when the Cavaliers told LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to take a seat against the Clippers, who predictably won in a rout. Nobody in the Cleveland organization much cared about the outcome, but according to GM David Griffin, the league office very much cared about the sitting part.
Griffin told ESPN that he received a call from the league higher ups and by all indications, it wasn’t pleasant. But of course. When three marketable and reasonably healthy stars on the defending champs sit out a nationally-televised game, and this wasn’t the first time, the league feels compelled to at least address it. But mainly, only in that situation. For example, the chances are fairly good that nobody is screaming at Phoenix for resting a healthy Eric Bledsoe, who will continue to sit for the bottom-feeding (and some might say tanking) Suns.
Look, fans and coaches and players and Jeff Van Gundy and league executives can go nuts on this touchy topic all they want. But here’s the reality:
1. Griffin spoke the truth when he explained to ESPN that he’s paid to win championships first and foremost. He’s absolutely right. And plenty of coaches whose jobs are based on the bottom line will say amen to that. Griffin lost Love and Irving to late-season injuries two years ago and that ruined Cleveland’s chances of beating the Warriors in the NBA Finals. Maybe those playoff injuries (Love’s shoulder and Irving’s kneecap) had nothing to do with the 82-game grind and would’ve happened anyway. But GMs and coaches, whose jobs depend on meeting the sometimes inflated expectations of fans, media and ownership, would rather leave nothing to chance. The fewer games you play, the less the odds of something freaky happening.
2. League powerhouses bought themselves the “right” to sit players. Yes, the Warriors and Cavs and Spurs are comfortable enough about their place in the standings and NBA hierarchy that they can arrogantly afford to sit players, and if it lowers their chances of winning certain games, big deal. Wisely, these teams picks their spots when to sit players; games against the Sixers and Nets are prime for sitting. Meanwhile, teams chasing lower playoff seeds almost never rest players because for those teams, something is on the line this late in the season. The Cavs will stop resting players when there’s something to fight for in March and April. They know they own the East even if they don’t get home-court advantage. Until that changes, their starters will occasionally sit.
3. Teams with winning records will almost certainly keep their best players from playing back-to-backs after the All-Star break. At this point, that’s almost automatic. And also understandable, even to the anti-sitting crowd. The NBA should get the message and cease all back-to-back situations after February. Next week the Warriors play a back-to-back against Houston and San Antonio on the road. So you are warned. You know what’s coming (and not coming) from coach Steve Kerr when he fills out his lineup.
4. If a superstar gets hurt in late March or early April in a so-called meaningless game and is done for the playoffs, don’t you think the league and the networks will care more about that? Or do you think he’ll be applauded by the anti-sitting crowd for “bravely playing 37 minutes against the Orlando Magic in March.” Yeah, you tell me.
5. And finally, here’s the real issue: If the league and TV networks really want to eliminate the sitting phenomenon, then reduce the season to 60 games and play no more than two games a week per team. That, of course, would mean less money for players, coaches, GMs, the league office and TV networks. Less games will also anger those fans who really don’t care about players who rest. Until all of the above are willing to take money out of their pockets -- which means, fat chance -- this issue of resting players late in the season should be put to … rest.
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