By: Cory Vest
There is no rest for the weary. Unless you play in the NBA that is.
A recent surge in the resting of NBA players has caused quite a stir among the league, so much so that commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to the league’s Board of Governors regarding the problem.
Silver referred to the matter as “an extremely significant issue for our league”.
The “significant issue” really came to surface after primetime games saw marquee players on the bench. On March 11th, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs were set to do battle in a highly-touted game. With names like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge, fans had every right to be hungry for the action. The nationally televised game, and thousands in attendance, instead saw a game that lacked all these names, and then some.
The Spurs were without Leonard and Aldridge due to injuries, while the Warriors were without Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala due to….rest? Yes, Steve Kerr chose to sit four of his five starters due to a tough stretch of the schedule. The Warriors were in the midst of an 8 game, 8 city trip that stretched 13 days.
“It’s my call and it’s the right thing to do in terms of the way the season is playing out and the way the minutes have gone and (Kevin Durant’s) injury” Kerr stated. “It’s the right thing to do so we’re doing it.”
Commissioner Silver wouldn’t necessarily agree with it being the right thing to do.
Silver’s memo included a portion that addressed the pitfalls of resting players. “Decisions of this kind can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game.”
In terms of business partners, networks paid $24 billion to the NBA in television contract negotiations this year. Television networks want viewers, viewers want to see the stars. Ergo, no stars mean less viewers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers caught a lot of flak from the league following their decision to rest their big three of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. In all fairness to the Cavaliers, Irving and Love were coming off of injuries. But Lebron was simply sitting out in order to rest. The rest came in a game televised on ABC against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The league expects teams to follow a set of rules and procedures when it comes to the resting of players which includes providing an ample amount of time’s notice to the league, fans, and other teams. The memo sent to the league warned that “Failure to abide by these rules will result in significant penalties.”
Silver is well aware of the fact that players need rest, and avoiding injury is a key part of the game which is why the topic will be a focus during the next Board of Governors meeting come early April. The meeting is sure to highlight changes to scheduling. The league will aim to alleviate the number of back-to-back games and consecutive games in a short time span.
Silver had a word for the governors in his memo as well that is bound to come up during the meeting. The memo said it was “Simply unacceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision making authority on these matters to others in their organization.”
Plenty of discussion can be had concerning this issue with a hearty amount of valid points representing both sides of the argument. Is resting players the right thing to do, or is it not?
A number of NBA stars, both past and present, expressed their opinions. Kobe Bryant had a leg on each side of the fence when he appeared on ESPN’s First Take. Kobe mentioned the fact that families pay hard earned money to see their favorite players compete. “When you miss a game, there is that one kid out there that’s not going to see his favorite player play.” Kobe continued by saying “We can disagree with it. We feel absolutely terrible for the kids that come to watch him perform.”
Kobe then went on to say that players like Lebron James, have earned the right to rest. “Lebron has done so much for the game” Kobe added that “He’s earned the right for us to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Lebron has been able to do so much for the game, in large part to the amount of time he’s given to the game. Lebron has appeared in six straight NBA Finals which has led to him playing in over 49,000 minutes.
When questioned about players resting, Lebron threw in his two cents with these comments. “Certain guys need rest, it’s a long season. The NBA does a great job putting the schedule together the best they can.” Lebron also said “coach’s job is to figure out a way to get a team to compete for a championship not compete for a game.” Lebron added “For me personally, I want to play in every game”, but “I’m going to go with my coach, he’s never steered me wrong.” Lebron didn’t have a solution readily available when asked what the league could do in order to help “I don’t think the NBA can do anything about it.”
Although the topic of resting players has recently come to the limelight, the act itself has been occurring for several seasons. During the 2012-13 season, Greg Popovich and the Spurs were fined $250,000 by David Stern after Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were sent home for rest prior to their final game of a six-game road trip. The match-up was against Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Lebron James’ Miami Heat.
In another interview, Lebron made mention of Popovich’s tactics of resting players saying “Listen, Pop’s been doing this for 10 years, 12 years, 15 years, and everybody was like, you know what, that’s the smartest thing Pop has ever done. You know, give his guys a couple of games off, and then they go win five championships. It’s the smartest thing. But some of the coaches in our league don’t have the stature that Pop has, and our coach doesn’t have it, so he gets killed for it.” Lebron also stated that the only reason players resting is an issue now is due to the fact that he’s partaking in the rest.
Coaches and players alike are getting “killed” for resting. Patrick Beverley, a guard for the Houston Rockets, fed the fire under those not participating in games. Beverley said “I think its bull(feces). I think that’s a disgrace to this league. I think fans deserve better….We understand you can’t play ball all 82, trust me with injuries and all that.” Beverley continued, “If you’re feeling ok, then you should play. That’s what you get paid for. That is what fans deserve…Me resting, I feel like is disrespecting me, disrespecting the name on the front of the jersey, and disrespecting the name on the back of the jersey.”
Karl Malone, former power forward for the Utah Jazz, delivered a similar message while talking with Sage Steele. “If you don’t have at least 10 years’ experience, get your a** playing.” The mailman also added “It’s not called work, it’s called playing. Besides, tell our underpaid service members, and police, and first responders to rest. They can’t.”
John Wall does not seem to be a fan of players resting either. Wall claimed that the league is softer now than it was before. As with others, Wall understands the fact that rest is needed to avoid injury and that coaches and doctors play a determining factor in whether or not players suit up. Wall took the fans’ side however, saying “I’m not the type of guy who wants to sit down and rest. I think you owe it to the fans. They paid money to come and see us play. That’s how a professional goes out there and competes. If nothing is hurt, you can play, go play.”
Instead of the league being softer than before, Greg Popovich says it is more advanced and more sophisticated than years past. “We have definitely added years to people. So, it’s a trade-off. You want to see this guy in this one game? Or do you want to see him for three more years in his career? And do you want to see him in the playoffs because he got rest?”
The issue brings a variety of viewpoints and valid opinions. Each NBA team has one goal, become champions of the NBA. Healthy players are a key factor in making a run to the finals. With such a long and grueling season packed with travel, back-to-back games, and plenty of wear and tear, it is hard not to understand the need for players to rest. On the flip side, you have fans shelling out money to see their favorite NBA players compete. As a ticketholder to a game, you want all the stars to be on the court, doing what they’re paid to do, compete and showcase the skills and talents that made them famous.
As the issue makes waves throughout the league, it is obvious that solutions need to be found. What those solutions are, and whether or not they will work is yet to be determined.