By Frank McLean
The issue of teams resting their star players for no reason other than they want them to have a night off because of a compact NBA schedule has reared its ugly head again. This time on a prime time Saturday night game ESPN had scheduled for its sister network ABC with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers decided that morning that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were going to take the night off.
This is a practice that was started by San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich a few years back when he decided to rest his stars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, etc in a game in Miami. The Heat being a non-conference opponent, Pop he felt he needed to rest his players for a game against a Western Conference opponent the next night which was crucial in the standings, and they were on a four games in five night schedule.
San Antonio was fined $250,000 by then-NBA commissioner David Stern in the 2012-13 season when coach Gregg Popovich sent Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home for rest on Nov. 29, 2012, rather than having them play Miami in the final game of a six-game road trip. – NBA.com
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that game was a TNT game of the week just like this past Saturday’s Cavaliers-Clippers game was nationally televised match-up.
On Monday, in a memo sent out by commissioner Adam Silver to the owners and referenced on NBA.com, the NBA league office let teams know that resting their star players is an extremely significant issue for our league.
“Decisions of this kind … can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game,” Silver wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.”
Silver stated that the issue of resting players will be at the top of the agenda April 6th the day of the next Board of Governors meeting. Silver is quoted in the memo saying “significant penalties for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”
Not only does the league have to stand by their television partners, whose billions of dollars paid for television rights is the main reason league revenues go up every year, but fans who buy tickets to games months in advance expecting to see LeBron James and company and instead get the B team.
As Silver said, “it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on fans and business partners, the reputation of the league and perception of our game.”
What irked me and I’m sure what really irked ESPN was the attitude of Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin who really didn’t care what people thought of his stars taking a night off.
“They’re paying me to win a championship.” Griffin told ESPN.com. “I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”
He went on to say that it’s not his job to appease the league and it’s television partners.
On Monday, ESPN management released a statement about teams resting their star players during nationally televised games.
“As always, our aim is to serve NBA fans with the best matchups involving the league’s top stars and we share the fans’ disappointment. We understand this is a complex issue and we’re working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint.”
What finally drove ESPN management over the edge was it was the second Saturday in a row a team decided to rest it big guns.
The previous week the Golden State Warriors were in stretch of playing eight games in eight different cities over a 13-day period covering a pair of cross country trips and some 11-thousand miles logged and in which six of those games were slated as a TNT or ESPN appearance. So for that Saturday night game with rival San Antonio Warriors coach Steve Kerr gave the night off to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
So what does the league do to stop this?
They did announce during All-Star Weekend that they are cutting the pre-season by a week and starting the regular season earlier to cut down on the back to back games and hopefully reduce injuries.
“That’s why we’re adding the extra week to the season,” Silver said during his news conference at the All-Star Game. “We’ve reduced the number of games we’ll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season. … That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players.”
Maybe the NBA could adopt what the NHL did this season where each team got five days off sometime in January or February. Teams were not allowed to practice during those five days so it was something that went along with the five days each team got in January for the all-star break.
I’m sure it’s an idea that might be brought up by governors from the Knicks and Raptors who’s parent companies also own NHL teams when they meet in April.
The issue of resting stars who are not hurt is something you don’t see in other sports. It’s something the NBA has to correct or maybe their television partners might look at spending their money elsewhere.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.