You may not like it. ABC/ESPN certainly doesn’t like it, and if they don’t like it Adam Silver sends off angry memos.
Just know that NBA teams resting players is here to stay. Maybe stretching out the schedule will reduce the number of times it happens, and the league can take steps to keep it from happening on nationally televised games as often. However, the trend of more rest is not going away. Study after study has shown players perform better when rested, and more importantly for teams players are far less likely to be injured when rested (muscle fatigue from back-to-backs or three-in-fours lead to increased injuries). Coaches of elite teams are thinking big picture, thinking titles in June, and that means resting guys in March.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was the first elite team coach to rest guys in key games — one time the Spurs drew a $250,000 fine from David Stern for it (and not notifying the league promptly). Popovich told the Express-News that he understands where Silver is coming from, but while players may miss games they play more years because of the nights off.
“But, at the same time, the league has to understand that the science of what we do is a whole lot more sophisticated than it used to be, and we have definitely added years to people. So, it’s a tradeoff: Do you want to see this guy in this one game or do you want to see them for three more years of his career? And do you want to see him through the playoffs because he didn’t get hurt?
“…So we are trying to use the science just like we use analytics with spreading the court with the (big men shooting from outside) and all that sort of thing. If the league things we need to know more about business they need to consider that a little bit more. And, so, seeing that player for extra years and extra games and playoffs based on some science might mean more than just that one game.”
Popovich has a valid point. LeBron James has already played more minutes than Michael Jordan. And for the broadcasters, they want LeBron and Stephen Curry and the NBA’s other stars right for the postseason, when more people tune in.
“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,” LeBron said Sunday night when asked about the concerns of broadcasters. “So I don’t see a problem with people watching.”
There’s a balance to strike here. The NBA is an entertainment business and could be coming up on a tipping point with fan and broadcaster frustration with guys sitting out big games.
However, if the league wants to promote the Warriors at the Spurs for a big Saturday night broadcast, then don’t have it be the Warriors’ eighth game in 13 nights with a couple cross-country flights thrown in. By the way, Golden State goes back to San Antonio next week, and again it’s the second night of a back-to-back (Houston the night before). This past Saturday, Cleveland was on the first night of a back-to-back against the Clippers and coming off injuries they wanted to make sure Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were given time to get right. If the NBA and broadcasters want to hype these like playoff games, treat them like playoff games and have rest on either side for the teams.
That said, if the NBA does have a marquee game where the teams are rested coming in, it’s fair to expect that the stars play.
This topic is going to come up when the owners meet next month. This summer Silver needs to get in a room with some owners, some representatives of TNT/ESPN, some coaches/gms, the players’ union, and has out a plan, a compromise that works better for everyone. This is a legitimate issue, but solving it is not that simple.
And adding length to players’ careers is good for business, too.