OAKLAND — The NBA is stuck in the middle on the rest issue. With no good answers.
It showed when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver tried to sound like a guy with answers when he the topic came up Thursday night at his annual press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals
One one hand, players resting during the season both decreases the chance of injury and increases the quality of play. The data on this is irrefutable, and for a league that has repeatedly said player health is a priority they can’t then force guys to play.
“What we’re learning, I mean, back to your point about the science and the data, is that it’s not 82 games, it’s not the length of the season, it’s the time between the games and that there’s a direct correlation between fatigue and injury on the part of the players,” Silver said.
However, it’s also a bad look for the league when multiple stars from elite teams are rested on the road or for nationally televised games. It was an embarrassing talking point for the league during the season.
“We had a good discussion with our teams at our last owners meeting, which was in April, and I think there is a recognition from teams that on one hand a certain amount of resting is just inevitable and appropriate to keep the players healthy, but that they shouldn’t be resting multiple starters on the same night,” Silver said. “And, incidentally, wherever possible, they should rest at home.”
Good luck getting teams to rest guys more at home (in part because on the road is when games tend to be clumped, not at home).
Silver discussed a couple of ways to reduce the number of back-to-backs and eliminate the number of four-games-in-five-nights situations on the road that lead to rest nights.
“One of the ways we’re going to solve the problem is we agreed with the union to add a week to the regular season for next year,” Silver said, referring to the recent CBA negotiations. “We haven’t done that yet. So a same number of games spread out over an additional week.”
The question was asked if one week was enough. Silver said the players’ union was willing to go further, but, “My desire is not to be giving this press conference in July. That’s the issue.”
The extra week was common knowledge, what was new was the league working with arenas to free up more dates.
“We are also requiring our arenas to free up more dates,” Silver said. “We’re competing against everything else that happens in these buildings, so you can only imagine the number of permutations that go into the computer program. But if we can ask them to hold yet additional nights, that also enables us to create more space between the games.”
Silver also tried to put the rest issue into better historical context — guys were rested in the past, they were just listed as out with a sore ankle/back/whatever.
“Resting in itself is not a new issue in this league,” Silver said. “I mean, part of the difficulty in making the comparisons from our historical seasons is that we didn’t used to have a category called DNP, do not play, resting. That’s only three years old on the stat sheet.
“But when you look back at the actual number of games — just taking All-Stars as a sample of players, over 30 years, our All-Stars are playing just about the same number of games this past season than they did 30 years ago.
“And I would also say back to those fans that here we are going into The Finals with a No. 1 seed in the West, No. 2 seed in the East, two teams that obviously had tremendous regular seasons, and every player is healthy.”
True, but we should note one of the reasons both of these teams cruised so easily into the playoffs were injuries to their opponents. Both the Warriors and Cavaliers benefited from injuries to multiple teams they played — the Warriors faced a Portland team without a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, a Utah team without a healthy George Hill, then, of course, the Kawhi Leonard injury with the Spurs (which was not a rest issue).
“I don’t necessarily think the fan benefits by somehow if the league could require a player who wasn’t injured but was banged up to play in a game when the trainers felt that player needed rest,” Silver said. “I don’t think the fan benefits by requiring that player to play and then that player getting injured.”
Silver is right. He also runs an entertainment business, one that too often does not put out its best product in front of the fans because coaches and GMs — understandably — are thinking big picture and not about the short-term optics.
There is no easy answer here. Silver and the league are doing what they can, but rest is here to stay. The league just needs to find a way to improve the optics.