A week ago, Warriors coach Steve Kerr created controversy when he decided to rest Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala against the Spurs in a nationally televised game. All were healthy, but the Warriors had played seven games in 12 days leading up to it, so Kerr chose a game the league had on in prime time to rest his guys.
This Saturday, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to rest LeBron James and also sit Kyrie Irving (who sprained his ankle in the previous game) and Kevin Love (coming off knee surgery) against the Clippers on another nationally televised game. All three are expected to play against the Lakers on Sunday.
Needless to say, the NBA league office was pissed off and let Cleveland GM David Griffin know about it, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
If the NBA is unhappy about guys being rested in nationally televised games it is hyping, then it needs to start by looking in the mirror. If the league wants to promote these games like playoff previews, it needs to treat them that way, not have one team be on a back-to-back or in a rough stretch of the schedule. Have both teams rested and ready to go.
That said, there is a tipping point where the NBA’s broadcast partners and fans will start to push back against player rest in key games — and they will do it with dollars. There is no doubt — and studies bear it out — that players play better and are less likely to be injured when rested. The trend toward sitting players is about player health, and that should come first.
However, the NBA is an entertainment business and it’s putting out an inferior product on a big stage because of it. ABC/Disney is shelling out a lot of money to broadcast NBA games and for two showcase Saturdays in a row it has gotten a star-less blowout to put on the air. Fans are frustrated that buying a ticket to see LeBron James or Stephen Curry or other big stars can be like the purchase of a lottery ticket — will you get lucky and see them play? It’s become a talking point for fans and an embarrassment to the league.
This summer the league office, players union, and some team representatives need to sit down in a room and start hashing out how to avoid this in the future, especially for nationally broadcast games. Part of that is scheduling from the league, but it is more than that. The league needs to take some action before fans and broadcast partners do.