2023 All-Star

Adam Silver discusses load management, key issues at All-Star news conference

The commissioner also shares thoughts on a record-setting trade deadline, unprecedented parity and Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.

Commissioner Adam Silver answers question from the media prior to State Farm All-Star Saturday Night.

SALT LAKE CITY — Karl Malone was making the rounds this week, with NBA All Star Weekend back in Utah for the first time since he and Jazz sidekick John Stockton shared the showcase game’s MVP award back in 1993.

Somehow, though, Malone didn’t cross paths with an issue that followed the NBA into town: load management. Probably a good thing for load management. The Hall of Fame power forward, beyond some age lines, looks not far physically from the 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds at which he played.

The two almost certainly would have tangled.

“Eh, times have changed,” Malone said to NBA.com Friday. “But you would have had to kill me for me not to play. Somebody would have had to hit me in the head to get me to sit out a game.”

That is not the case in 2022-23, when a number of star players are avoiding playing in back-to-back games or otherwise sitting out on certain nights even when healthy.

Some critics – including disappointed fans who either buy tickets or tune in to see those stars – blame the players. Others focus on team management for trying to keep their prize assets in bubble wrap until the playoffs. Still others think the medical and training staffs on these teams hold too much sway.

Whichever, load management was the dominant subject at NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s annual All-Star news conference.

Adam Silver discusses 2024 All-Star weekend being held in Indianapolis after a multi-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This isn’t a new issue,” Silver said before the All-Star Saturday Night events at Vivint Arena. “I understand it from a fan standpoint that if you are particularly buying tickets to a particular game and that player isn’t playing. I don’t have a good answer for that other than this is a deep league with incredible competition.”

Silver has said before that the data on injuries doesn’t show much correlation with sitting out games. That makes it trickier to legislate for or against, though the NBA has adjusted its schedule in recent years, trying to minimize back-to-backs and eradicate instances of four games in five nights.

The “degree of randomness” to injuries, Silver said, puts other adjustments on the table, without really advocating for any. He doesn’t feel the Players Association is adversarial about finding a solution, either.

“If it means at some point that we’re better off elongating the schedule to reduce back-to-backs, for example, that’s something that’s worth looking at,” the commissioner said. “If we thought it made sense to reduce the number of games, we would. But there’s no data right now.”

The kind of data Malone has in mind are the workloads he and Stockton logged as two of the NBA’s all-time iron men. “The Mailman,” a 14-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA honoree and two-time MVP winner, played all 82 games 10 times and missed a total of eight games over eight other seasons in Utah. Stockton played 82 in 17 of his 19 seasons, including when he was 40 years old.

“Go ask that player if he wants to play,” Malone said. “Yeah, sometimes, you have to save the athletes from themselves. But everything is timing and rhythm. When you miss a game, especially when you’re a key cog in that engine, everybody’s off.

“I remember Coach [Jerry] Sloan telling me kind of at the end he was sorry. He told me and Stock he played us too many minutes. I told him, ‘I grew up just doing the work. I played almost 20 years.’ Why was that too much? I told him, ‘Other than a little aches and pains, I think we got out of there pretty good.’”

Adam Silver answers the question regarding player movement during the trade deadline.

Silver used that same phrase — “aches and pains” — in speaking with reporters Saturday. He reminded them that as a season grinds on, many NBA stars and non-stars are playing through those type of minor ailments and hindrances. No one — from the league’s hierarchy down to reasonable fans — expects players to ignore or risk worsening significant injuries.

Back to the data question, Silver did mention some facts and figures that might argue load management need not be a pressing concern at all. For all the grumbling in the media, teams and the league aren’t paying a literal price for it.

By the time-honored business practice of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” load management hasn’t broken anything yet.

“[This year] we’re going to likely break the all-time record for tickets sold,” Silver said. “We’re likely going to have the all-time record for season-ticket renewals. So our fans aren’t necessarily suggesting that they are that upset with the product we’re presenting. And our television ratings are holding up.

“At the end, there’s a marketplace of fans who at the end of the day are the ultimate adjudicators of whether this is a product worth watching and paying for. Right now, they’re telling us that they love the NBA, and they’re attending and watching it at record levels.”

As usual, Silver’s news conference touched on multiple issues, including:

The standings never have been more tightly bunched, hence the commissioner labeling this “the single-most competitive season in our history.” Only nine games separate the No. 5 and No. 12 teams in the Eastern Conference. The West is tighter, with six games separating No. 3 and No. 13.

Parity needn’t be a dirty word, not with Silver crediting the “incredible quality of play, the dramatic number of international players now in the league.”

He noted that the Feb. 9 trade deadline sparked the movement of approximately 10% of the league’s players changing teams, taking that as an encouraging sign of teams positioning themselves for playoff and play-in opportunities.

Adam Silver discusses the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations between the league and the NBPA.

Less acceptable are the occasional trade demands that get aired, notably by former Brooklyn players Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Durant made his before the season began, then backed off, but he plays for Phoenix now. Irving wanted out when he and the Nets couldn’t agree on a contract extension, and he was shipped to Dallas.

“I think that’s a bad thing,” Silver said. “I think it’s corrosive to the system. Certainly fans don’t like it. Even lots of players don’t like it as well because, ultimately, they may be [signing with] a particular team under a belief that that player is still going to be there.

“So strongly against anything said publicly. I agree that a certain amount of player movement is good, but I think it has to be done in partnership and honoring those agreements that players and teams enter into.”

Silver and the Players Association both remain committed to reaching a new collective bargaining agreement by March 30. That’s the latest deadline (extended from Dec. 15) by which one side or the other can opt-out, ending the current deal this summer rather than in 2024.

Wish there had been more big names in the dunk contest? Silver wouldn’t mind that either, though he brought up a fair point for why that mattered more in the days of Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins.

“In the old days there was a bit more of a tradition of certain superstars who wanted to participate in the Slam Dunk,” he said. “Back then, when you would see some of those great stars dunking, their games were not available on your phone, every single one of them, every night, and highlights weren’t available on multiple platforms 24/7 the way they are now. There were different incentives to present themselves to the world.”

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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