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Adam Silver says data may prove Gregg Popovich right in terms of resting multiple players

BOSTON — When David Stern held the office of NBA Commissioner, he fined the Spurs $250,000 after head coach Gregg Popovich sent four starters home the day of a nationally televised contest against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Adam Silver, who took over for Stern in February of 2014, isn’t likely to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps.

At the time, Stern blamed the sudden nature of the Spurs’ decision (along with the lack of any sort of advanced communication) for coming down so hard.

But Popovich has long felt that resting his players during certain stretches of the league’s long, 82-game grind would be beneficial, and Silver, speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday, was willing to concede that as the league looks to make injury data available for all teams to analyze, it may ultimately prove what Popovich has known all along.

“There’s been a lot of talk recently about back-to-backs in our league, or four games out of five nights,” Silver said. “There’s a sense in terms of how tired guys are, but we should be at a point where using better analytics in terms of creating the schedule — (not only) how big a difference does it make if maybe there’s a back-to-back, but when they’re playing back-to-back and they cross two time zones, does that have a different impact, for example?”

“I think our teams, there maybe was a time where that was viewed as a competitive advantage, to the extent that ‘we have better trainers, better doctors,’ Silver said. “You’d like to believe that as a league, that ultimately, that’s not how we want to compete, in terms of the health and welfare of our players — that we all have an interest in ensuring the best players are on the floor. And so there are additional areas where I’m going to be having discussions with our general managers and our owners, and where everybody’s going to be willing to take a long-term view and say it’s in the collective interest of the league to focus on the health and well-being of the players, and taking the best wisdom from all the teams and distributing that — which is exactly what we do now on the business side.”

The moderator of the panel then quipped that once all teams start embracing that sharing of data and begin to analyze it, Popovich won’t be able to sit four starters for a particular game anymore, because the information won’t support the decision.

“Or,” Silver said, “Maybe he’s right.”

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