As much as it would have bothered me to show up to the highly priced Cavs vs. Rockets game last week only to realize that LeBron and Kyrie decided to take the second night of a back-to-back off, I would have at least respected the idea. However, if I pay $400 to go watch two NBA powerhouses face off with the playoffs around the corner, you’re damn right I’m going to be pissed off if I have to watch the 65-year-old Richard Jefferson-led Cavs get run out of the building. Fortunately for me, this wasn’t the case. But what about the guy with a low-income job who saves up some extra spending money throughout the year so he can buy tickets to watch LeBron James make his once a season appearance against his favorite team? Would we still be talking about this if teams at least had the courtesy to rest their stars at home where they play 40+ times a year? Jordan never needed to rest. When’s the last time James Harden took a night off for the Rockets? At the very least, rest these guys at home rather than on the road.
On the same day that LeBron came out and defended the idea of resting star players, James Harden let the media know that he just wants to play and he’ll rest “when [he’s] done”. Now, while I could sit here and pick apart the star players in the NBA for showing up on the box score as “DNP-Rest,” this problem lies with in the NBA’s lack of punitive decisions and it’s unfixable scheduling issue.
Unfortunately, there are very few solutions to this problem. The NBA could extend its already-lengthy regular season and push the playoffs back, but that would most likely result in the playoffs being pushed into early July. That, in itself, would defeat the purpose of giving players more time to rest. If the league were to subtract games to avoid having teams play back-to-back games, that would take money out of the pockets of the league, coaches, executives, players, and television networks. While nationally televised networks such as TNT and ESPN could do a better job of ensuring that their primetime games don’t fall on the second night of back-to-backs, this doesn’t solve the problem from the fan’s perspective. Someone is bound to lose money no matter how you look at the situation.
As I mentioned, the NBA schedule making process is difficult enough as it is. Think about the standards that have already been set for making the league schedule, and now imagine having to appease every fan and television network’s financial needs. It’s not going to happen, so stop making a big deal out of it. While I do feel bad for the fans who spend their good money to watch stars wear suits 5x the price of their tickets, NBA franchises have ONE job: win a championship. No, I don’t feel bad for $50 billion ESPN having bad ratings for three hours or any television network that hires Charles Barkley as an analyst.
Think about it from the perspective of a team trying to win a title. Two years ago, injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love halted the Cavaliers just short of another NBA title as they were no match to the healthy Golden State Warriors. That isn’t to say that these injuries would not have occurred anyway, but you can’t rule out the fact that 82 games of pure exertion had nothing to do with the injuries. No matter what side you take on this issue, it is undeniable that injuries tend to happen more when a players’ every day grind takes a toll on their body. Moral of the story: if you play less games, there’s much less of an injury risk.
If you’re a coach or GM and your team is good enough in March and April to the point where losing a game or two without your star players won’t have much of an effect on the playoff seeding, you have absolutely every right let your guys take a night off. Professional basketball is a long season. The NBA playoffs are lengthier and more rigorous than the playoffs in any other professional sport. While it may be unfortunate for the fans who spend money on beefed-up ticket prices to watch stars play, I can promise you it’s going to be much more painful to the Warriors fan when he hears that Steph tore his ACL playing against the Nets in late March. To the TV networks: which option sounds more financially traumatizing? Ratings going down for one night because the Cavaliers decide they don’t want to risk LeBron getting hurt before the playoffs or having to televise an entire Cavaliers playoff series without number 23 on the court?
The bottom line is that this problem isn’t going to be fixed without someone getting the short end of the stick. Modifying the schedule will only help to such an extent. There are already tons of variables that go into making schedules and adjusting that process is far more complicated than many fans know. My take? Don’t extend the length season to the point where playoff games start falling in July. The best move for the NBA at this point is to slightly extend the length of the NBA season (without additional games, of course) in order to prevent teams from playing four games in five nights or five games in a week. This is guaranteed to help player fatigue and hopefully minimize the amount of “days of rest” taken by players. However, by no means will this problem be solved without Adam Silver stepping in and implementing some sort of penalty when it comes to this.
In 2012, the commissioner at the time, David Stern slapped the Spurs with a $250,000 fine for resting. Until last night, Adam Silver remained relatively quiet regarding the issue. Yesterday, Silver sent out a memo to the owners in the league emphasizing how big of a problem resting star players has become. He specifically cited the negative effect it could have with “fans and business partners” while also noting that it is tarnishing the perception and reputation of the league as a whole. Every year, franchises sell ticket packages based on the caliber of the opponents. How is it possibly fair to the fan who buys the “platinum package” only to later realize that the players they essentially paid extra to watch are wearing suits on the bench. While it may seem far-fetched to think that one would pay the same price to see LeBron play as they would to watch their favorite team play Magic, it could very well be a topic of discussion in the near future. While I don’t necessarily agree that all games should be priced relatively equally, it at least creates a perception that the league is aware of their own problem and courteous enough to make the effort to minimize it. Silver stated that he presumes that this will be a large topic of discussion at the upcoming NBA Board of Governors meeting on April 6th, with “significant fines” being one of the possible penalties.
However, as I mentioned earlier, this is no-win situation regardless of the approach Commissioner Silver decides to take. Fining teams is going to result in one of two things. Either teams are going to accept the fact that they can no longer rest their star players down the stretch to preserve them for the playoffs or they’re going to decide that there isn’t a dollar amount on having their top players healthy and available for a playoff run. If this is the case, it’s going to be up to each franchise to determine the lesser of too evils.