The Clippers sat Kawhi Leonard for their home loss to the Bucks last night.
But what about fans who paid to watch Leonard? What would Clippers coach Doc Rivers tell them?
“They get to see me.”
When the laughter subsided, Rivers addressed the subject more seriously.
“Listen, I’m a fan of basketball as well, not just a coach,” he said. “I feel for that. I understand that. We obviously have to do what’s right by our players. We have to. It’s our duty. And for a fan, it’s just really a tough one. There’s no answer. There’s no correct answer that I’m going to give you that will satisfy that person.”
Was there a way to better balance the interests of the players and the fans?
“The issue is take away all the back-to-backs,” Rivers said. “That would be one.”
This is the fundamental issue facing the NBA.
Leonard believes skipping games helps him in the long run. The Clippers believe Leonard skipping games helps them in the long run. They are aligned – as is the best evidence we have on the effects of workload.
But the NBA still puts on 1,230 games to draw revenue through ticket sales and telecasts.
As teams and players increasingly prioritize rest, will the value of those games decrease? Will fans pay less for tickets? Will outlets pay less for broadcast rights? Nobody in the league wants that.
Removing back-to-backs would help. But players sometimes rest on back-to-backs. That’s a step in the right, not a solution. And the league is already working to minimize back-to-backs. With travel schedules and arena conflicts, eliminating back-to-backs entirely isn’t so easy.
Rivers is right: There’s no easy answer. Teams’ individual motivations (winning deep into the playoffs) are at direct odds with the league’s collective motivation (making money).