NBA Boss Adam Silver Weighs In On Player Rest Battle

Unless the NBA figures out a solution soon, this will become a battle between huge interests

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Mar 21, 2017 at 12:41 PM ET

When the NBA’s top two teams met a little more than a week ago, the San Antonio Spurs were without their three biggest stars (Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge) for medical reasons. The opposing Golden State Warriors—playing three games in four days and back-to-back road games in Minnesota and now Texas—decided to sit their healthy stars (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala) while the team’s other A-lister, Kevin Durant, was already out with a knee ailment

A Saturday night national television game in primetime was suddenly without any of its top eight headlining players. As the Warriors’ Matt Barnes told reporters after the game, “It’s more about May and June than March.”

True. But the NBA is flush with TV money to the tune of nine years and $24 billion because of the whole schedule, including the 82-game regular season slate running from November through April, as well as the playoff months of May and June.

That’s why league commissioner Adam Silver—previously equanimous about the burgeoning rest issue—distributed a memo to every team owner, ESPN reported, in which he deemed sitting star players “an extremely significant issue for our league.”

The topic will reportedly be a major point of discussion at the next NBA board of governors meeting in early April with “significant penalties” for teams that don’t provide sufficient notice to the league, opponent, and press as required by league rules. Silver isn’t saying teams can’t rest their players, but the tone of this commentary has evolved from his previous stance that was a bit more laissez faire:

“I would say my personal view is I would rather not engage in discussions with coaches and GMs on playing time. I think that’s a core responsibility of the team and I think it’s a very slippery slope for the league office to start getting in the business of telling a coach or team what minutes a player should play.”

Silver still isn’t telling a coach or general manager what to do—and he has been clear in noting the direct link between fatigue and injuries—but he is asking owners to remain vigilant and essentially be a proxy for the league office. The difference may seem like it’s only semantics, but at least this way each franchise has some degree of autonomy and self-governance.

There remains a consensus among those at court level of rest’s importance. As Cavaliers superstar LeBron James recently told reporters, “At the end of the day, it sucks at times where certain guys have to rest, but certain guys need rest. . . . a coach’s job is to figure out a way for their team to compete for a championship, not compete for a game.”

Similarly, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the other day of top players being inactive, “I hate it for the fans,” but the reality is that the grind of the season can be too much. He made a sound proposal—one of several possible tweaks to the schedule that could help alleviate the problem. Rivers suggested not having any team play a nationally-televised game as the second half of a back-to-back. Thus, there’d be less urgency to make that a rest game.

This isn’t a straightforward labor issue because, while the players obviously are pro-rest in an effort to stay healthy and preserve the length of their careers, the management side lacks unanimity. The league wants to preserve ticket sales and TV ratings; GMs and coaches are only concerned with the end-of-season standings; the owners presumably straddle the line, sharing motivations on both sides of the debate.

Ultimately, there are really only two solutions: a shortening of the season, which will cost the owners and league money and thus won’t happen, or tweaking the schedule in ways like Rivers suggested. That could include lengthening the calendar even though it’s not ideal for the season to stretch into July or start earlier in October, or just making patchwork fixes along the way. At least the league is addressing the issue before it gets too far out of hand.