The NBA has a problem. For the second Saturday night, a nationally televised game was missing some of its biggest stars.
The Cleveland Cavaliers chose to give their big three — LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving — a night off rather than face the Los Angeles Clippers. Giving stars a blow is becoming a common practice for coaches, but this decision by the Cavs’ Tyronn Lue reportedly was ripped by ABC’s analysts and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers.
Jeff Van Gundy called resting stars a “prosecutable offense” and added “remarks, quips or complains” about the situation, according to a tally by Cleveland.com’s Joe Noga, 23 times on the air. Among his observations: “This game stinks.” And: “It’s bait-and-switch. It would not be tolerated in any other business. You can’t sugarcoat it. You advertise one thing and then you deliver a different product.”
For Mark Jackson, it was “an absolute joke.”
The folks at ABC aren't too happy about the Cavs sitting LeBron, Kyrie + Love tonight. pic.twitter.com/jeaho7Bjzq
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) March 19, 2017
Karl Malone, the former Utah Jazz star, thinks highly-paid stars should work, not sit. “If you don’t have at least 10 years experience, get your [butt] playing,” Malone told ESPN’s Sage Steele. “It’s not work — it’s called playing. Besides, tell our underpaid service members and police and first responders to rest. They can’t.”
The lineup change wasn’t well received in NBA HQ, either, with a call quickly going out to Cavs General Manager David Griffin. “Seven minutes after it was announced,” he said specifically (via ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne), adding, “Yeah, they were not happy.”
No kidding. The result was a 30-point victory by the Clippers, whose coach was pretty ticked, too, even though he had rested Blake Griffin on Thursday.
“There is a fan base that probably bought tickets tonight to see LeBron James play for the first time. They didn’t get a chance to see that, and that’s not cool.”
Maybe not, but balancing the wear and tear on superstars in a grueling NBA season is one reason they pay coaches. Love and Irving have been injured this season and the Cavs are in the midst of playing six games in nine days.
It’s a bad look, though, coming as it did on the heels of the decision by Golden State Coach Steve Kerr to rest Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala (with Kevin Durant injured) against the Spurs in San Antonio in a March 11 national telecast. (The Spurs won by 22.)
ESPN described why Kerr made his decision: “To recap the Warriors “journey,” as Kerr calls it: The Warriors played Feb. 25 in Oakland; flew across the country for a game in Philadelphia on Feb. 27; flew overnight to Washington DC for a back-to-back on Feb. 28; jetted to Chicago for a March 2 game; hopped on a flight back to the East Coast for a game at Madison Square Garden on March 5; flew down to Atlanta for a back-to-back on March 6; jetted across the country to host the Celtics in Oakland before embarking on another back-to-back in Minnesota and San Antonio. Saturday’s game will be the Warriors’ fifth game in seven days.”
So Kerr did what Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich did in 2012: he chose not to take his star players to Miami for a nationally televised game against the Heat — and the team was fined $250,000 by then-commissioner David Stern.
“Popovich laid down the groundwork and made it acceptable and made it smart even,” Kerr told ESPN.
Commissioner Adam Silver hasn’t been similarly inclined. Yet.