With the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers — who faced off in the past two NBA Finals and are the favorites to meet there a third time this June — opting to sit all of their star players each of the past two Saturday nights on national television, the issue of resting players has become a hot topic in the basketball world.
The NBA’s league office has noticed.
In a memo sent to all 30 NBA teams Monday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that resting players has “become an extremely significant issue for our league,” and said there will be a “full discussion” of the practice at the April 6 Board of Governors meeting in New York.
ESPN first reported the memo, which was later obtained by The Washington Post.
What’s clear is that, with the spotlight on the league for the decisions of Warriors Coach Steve Kerr and Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue to sit their stars on back-to-back weekends, the NBA isn’t happy that the talk surrounding some of its marquee games is not about the action on the court. Instead, the focus has turned to healthy players in street clothes on the sideline.
To that end, Silver implored the league’s owners to get involved in the decision-making process, stating that teams deciding to sit players can have a bigger impact than on that one game.
“Decisions of this kind do not merely implicate issues of player health and team performance on the court,” Silver said in the memo. “They also can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation, and damage the perception of our game. 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.”
While the NBA is obviously frustrated by the situation, the league could find itself going down a slippery slope if it tries to dictate who can sit — and who can’t. The Warriors sat Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back set after playing eight games in eight cities in 13 days — a stretch in which they had lost Kevin Durant for several weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise.
Cleveland, meanwhile, sat Kevin Love as part of recovery from a recent knee surgery and Kyrie Irving because of knee tightness against the Clippers, and decided it might as well give James a night off — especially since the Cavaliers were set to play in Los Angeles again the next night against the Lakers.
The common thread in most of the instances when teams sit players: Back-to-back games. The NBA has tried to reduce those, as well as four-games-in-five-nights stretches, and next season, the preseason will be a week shorter to help spread the schedule.
But while the league acknowledges the fatigue issue, it clearly was upset that did not announce James, Love and Irving were going to sit until pregame access. Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin said he got a call from the league to explain his decision, and in the memo Silver made it clear that teams that fail to provide proper notice of stars sitting out will be disciplined.
“Please also be reminded that, under current league rules, teams are required to provide 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,” the memo said. “Failure to abide by these rules will result in significant penalties.”
Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, fined the Spurs $250,000 in 2012 for doing “a disservice to the league and its fans” after Coach Gregg Popovich decided to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginóbili and Danny Green home instead of playing the final game of a six-game road trip in Miami — and failing to notify anyone until just before the game.
At the time, Kerr — then working for TNT as an analyst — went to Twitter to give his take on the matter.
“If the NBA punishes the Spurs for sitting players, it opens up a huge can of worms,” Kerr said. “This is a serious legal challenge for the league.”
The can isn’t opened quite yet. But after Kerr and Lue made the last two Saturdays into conversations about rest, the topic isn’t going away anytime soon. And, as Silver’s memo shows, it’s a topic the league is ready to take on.