Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Jeff Van Gundy, and a segment of the NBA media landscape are up in arms over the last two showcase Saturday night games on ABC—the Cavs-Clippers dud of a blowout this past Saturday, that saw LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love all earn healthy scratches, and the boring bench battle between the Spurs and Warriors the weekend before. Yet, it’s not the players who are to blame for resting during the regular season. It’s the NBA.
Overlooking the hypocrisy of Barkley calling out LeBron for taking a night off, let's remember that Cavs’ general manager David Griffin—likely after huddling with owner Dan Gilbert (per NBA rules), coach Ty Lue, and the players themselves—made the decision to rest all of Cleveland’s stars for Saturday’s tip in Los Angeles. As Gilbert mentioned to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne after the game, he’s judged on his ability to lead a team to a title, not help the Association sell its product by overexerting his tired and banged-up stars in a meaningless primetime affair.
The onus is on the NBA to fix this, and that doesn’t mean strong-arming franchises, or publicly belittling players. It’s up to the NBA to construct a schedule where a marquee matchup on national TV comes after a slow spot in the schedule. The league should want its players to get a decent night’s sleep and their legs underneath them before they wow us on TNT or ABC or ESPN because they’ll play better. On the other side, the teams themselves should make more of an effort to map out a rest schedule so their star players don’t miss a national TV game. That’s what any smart operation would do, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is pretty smart—ask anyone who was on the Clippers a little over three years ago.
Silver and company have already instituted a change ahead of the April 6 Board of Governors meeting: plans to start the season earlier in October and finish later in June, adding another 12 days to the schedule, which will allow more of a buffer between games. With foresight by the league’s scheduling architects, national TV audiences and fans who shelled out extra dough to see star-laden collections in person might only ever get the wind knocked out of them once more—on April 8, when the Spurs take on the Clippers.
in case Charlotte’s owner wants to chime in on this topic, let the record show LeBron never took a sabbatical to play baseball.
Despite how easy this problem is to avoid, nowhere in the preceding four paragraphs did we mention a player saying, “Coach, I need a rest.” Every NBA player wants to play. Some probably do ask for a night off, like people in all professions, but playing 82 games of regular season basketball as a precursor to the apex level of basketball competition that is the NBA playoffs is a lot to ask. Rest is normal, even for abnormal athletic marvels.
Yes, Mr. Chris Bosh (miss you, boo), the Mailman (who shouldn’t be allowed to interject on this topic because he was a freak of nature who can’t be copied), and some media members all make solid points about sucking it up and playing. But why should teams risk injury? Why, when there’s no explicit rule forbidding it (and if there were, teams would just feign an injury), wouldn’t you rest your stars?
Science has already shown the chance of an injury dramatically increases on the second night of a back-to-back. Players fly charter now and their sneakers are better, but the game itself, while not as physically bruising as it was in the '80s and '90s, actually taxes the body more. Imagine Barkley or Malone having to guard the standard 2017 power forward and—without hand checking—fight over screens to get a hand in the face, even when they’re 25 feet from the cup and lining up a high-percentage 3-pointer? Combine that with more possessions, passing and space for offenses, and the accumulated stress on the body for today’s NBA players ratchets past their forefathers.
Rest is good for the game. For all the controversy that’s been stirred up, this is an easy problem to fix, and we have no doubt Adam Silver will do so. Regardless, let's stop trashing the players.
And, in case Charlotte’s owner wants to chime in on this topic, let the record show LeBron never took a sabbatical to play baseball.