Saturday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers sat LeBron James for rest, and sat Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for the first half of a back-to-back, a nationally televised game against the Clippers (then played them the next night against the Lakers). League officials were not happy and called up the Cavaliers to let them know.
For two weeks, resting NBA players has become a major sports media talking point following what should have been marquee NBA games.
Monday, NBA owners got a memo from Adam Silver saying this topic is going to be addressed, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has called the practice of teams resting marquee players “an extremely signifcant issue for our league” in a memo to league owners Monday obtained by ESPN.
In the memo, Silver informed teams that the issue will be a prime topic of discussion at the next NBA Board of Governors meeting April 6 in New York and warned of ”signifcant penalties” for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ”notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”
He states that it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on “fans and business partners,” the reputation of the league and “perception of our game.”
It’s not going to be a simple issue to solve. Expect Silver to sit down with teams, the players’ union, and other stakeholders this summer to try and hammer out a compromise that can work for everyone
Some of the responsibility comes back to the league and it’s schedule makers — you can’t slot a team into a Saturday night showcase game for a broadcast partner and have it be the eighth game in 13 days with a couple cross-country flights involved (as was the case with the Warriors and their decision to rest guys). If the NBA wants to put together marquee television matchups and tout them like playoff games, they need to schedule them like playoff games with plenty of rest.
“It sucks, there are some times guys have to rest and some guys need rest,” LeBron said after the Cavaliers win Sunday. “It’s a long, strenuous season, and the NBA does the best it can putting the schedule together but you’re going to have back-to-backs and you’re going to have certain games where certain things fall on certain nights. But coach’s job is to figure out a way to get a team to compete for a championship, and not compete for a game. And it sucks at certain times because you only play in certain cities once, or you only play certain teams once on their home floor. Me personally, I want to play in every game, I wanted to play last night but my coach said he felt it was best I didn’t play last night so I didn’t and I’m going to go with my coach.”
It’s not an easy issue to solve, in part because the league is trying to focus on player health and safety, and studies show that players are 3.5 times more likely to be injured in the second game of a back-to-back when muscles are fatigued. Coaches like Kerr or the Cavaliers’ Tyronn Lue have to be thinking about being healthy and rested in May and June, and that means getting guys rest in March.
However, the league’s broadcast partners — TNT and ESPN/ABC — are understandably frustrated with the practice. Like fans buying tickets, they are shelling out a lot of money for these games only to find out they are not getting the product they thought they were purchasing.
Of course, LeBron noted those broadcast partners make a lot of their money back in the postseason when viewership is up and guys do not rest.
“I’ve been part of six straight Finals, and every season the Finals is bigger and bigger and better and better, and more people are tuning in. So I don’t see a problem with people watching,” LeBron said.