The players’ union understood the risks when it accepted a collective bargaining proposal from the NBA that would lead to a condensed season, featuring 66 games in a mere 123 days.
Through the first four weeks of the regular season, an all-star roster of talent has dealt with the kind of sprains, tears and breaks that could easily happen at any time. But with teams forced to play an average of one extra game every two weeks, time spent resting is compounded because a significant chunk of the season is also missed in the process.
Reigning league’s most valuable player Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony Manu Ginobili, Zach Randolph, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, Nene, Stephen Curry and Brook Lopez, among others, have all had to sit out because of various ailments. That list doesn’t include Kobe Bryant, who has elected take cortisone shots in his right wrist before every game in order to play.
“To be honest with you, a lot of players have been working out for long period of time, and I wouldn’t just attribute injuries entirely on the shortened season,” said Wizards reserve and National Basketball Players Association vice president Maurice Evans, who helped negotiate the labor agreement. “Melo sprained an ankle? I mean those are things that just happen. I don’t credit those to conditioning at all. I think some of these injuries are just that, fluke injuries.”
This season has already presented two of the flukiest, with Horford and Kwame Brown both going down in consecutive days with torn pectoral muscles that could force them to miss at least three months.
The NBA was aware of possible injury woes and allowed teams to have 13 players on the active roster instead of 12 through Feb. 5. “Coaches around the league are going to have to extend their benches and you’ll see a lot of parity,” Evans said.
But the other downside to the rushed schedule has been the quality of play. With so many games getting crammed in, players have found it hard to summon the energy to play at a high level each night, resulting in a decline in scoring and field goal percentage.
Last season, 28 teams shot at least 44 percent from the floor. This year, just 16 teams shoot at least 44 percent – and two don’t shoot at least 41 percent. Milwaukee was the lowest scoring team at 91.9 points per game. This season, three teams don’t average at least 90.
The Chicago Bulls defense is notoriously stout, but should they really be able to hold their first five home opponents to an average of 67 points per game? The Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks combined to score 143 points in a game.
Evans admitted that the bottom line was money. Owners needed 66 games in order to generate enough revenues to pay players the salaries that they’ve grown accustomed to receiving.
“I think it’s a fair number,” Evans said. “I don’t think that was the last number. We weren’t trying to find out. They weren’t trying to find out. There were different targets and I think there was maybe one more target we would’ve tried to hit if he didn’t get a deal [by late November], but I’m glad we didn’t have to resort to that. We were so elated to finally come to an agreement. That guys would be able to do what they’re going to do. That fans would be able to see the game they love so much.”