It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted but I’ve got a strong opinion about resting NBA players to gear up for the post-season. Obviously, this strategy isn’t new as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been sitting out starters like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for years now and with 5 NBA titles since 1998-99, who can argue? Sure, former Commissioner David Stern fined the team $250k in 2012 for sending starters back to San Antonio to rest but he had to act as the Spurs were playing a nationally televised game against LeBron James and the Heat. The Spurs have yet to miss the playoffs since Duncan’s arrival which combined with their historically high 61% winning percentage (surpassing even the Lakers) make it easy to give Popovich a pass on this issue.
The problem for the NBA, however, is that this is becoming a league-wide trend for both top teams (Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks) as well as terrible ones like the Denver Nuggets who recently “rested” 3 of their starters (are they exhausted from losing 42 games and counting?) This must concern Commissioner Adam Silver regardless of whether the reason is for a deep post-season run or to gain a better draft position and he needs to take a firm stance. The Warriors recently sat 4 of their starters against the Nuggets in Denver which is completely inexcusable as it was the only game fans there could see players like Steph Curry or Klay Thompson live. Plus, Thompson is 25 years old with 3 seasons of experience so why exactly is he so tired?
I recently saw an interview with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban who, in response to a question related to this topic, asserted that fans buy tickets for the “experience”. That’s not entirely true as fans really come to see the stars play since the NBA is a star-based league, especially in comparison to other sports which have many more players per team. In fact, the league’s ad campaign revolves around instantly recognizable players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook. When a coach sits several players at once, the fans’ experience, to use Cuban’s terminology, is greatly diminished. If I had paid face value for the Warriors-Nuggets game referenced above, I would have been furious. Silver’s job as Commissioner is to maintain the league’s best interests which, if this trend continues, is in danger.
The most obvious solution is to reduce the number of games played (both pre-season and regular season) but since this would negatively impact the NBA’s (not to mention the sponsors’) revenue stream, I don’t see this happening any time soon. Realistically, Silver should put out some guidelines about when and how often teams can rest their players. For instance, one starter can sit out a game but others have to play at least some minutes and effectively immediately, no team with a losing record can EVER rest players! If teams ignore the terms, then the league must consider fines. I understand that coaches don’t want to be told how to manage their team but as the practice gets more widespread, it’s the fans who suffer most.