For two straight weeks, a whiff of controversy has surrounded the NBA, as top teams continue to rest star players for the league's showcase Saturday night game on ABC. Commissioner Adam Silver appears ready to nip this in the bud, as he sent out a memo to league owners on Monday warning them that he is about to bring the thunder.
In the memo, Silver informed teams that the issue will be a prime topic of discussion at the next NBA board of governors meeting April 6 in New York and warned of "significant penalties" for teams that don't abide by the league's standing rules for providing "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."
[Silver] states that it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on "fans and business partners," the reputation of the league and "perception of our game."
New York is the perfect setting for such a meeting, as the hometown Knicks are well known for tossing their big-name players onto the court even when it makes no logical sense to do so.
What kind of penalty might Silver hand down to offending teams? His predecessor, David Stern, set a precedent in 2012 when he fined the Spurs $250,000 for sitting Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green for a marquee TNT matchup against the Miami Heat.
The player rest controversy has been going on for years, but seems to have hit a tipping point of late. Two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors sat Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala for what originally looked like a "game of the season" candidate matchup with the Spurs on ABC. The network got hosed again the following Saturday when the Cleveland Cavaliers sat LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving in a loss to the Clippers.
The league office called Cavaliers GM David Griffin after the game, though Griffin remained defiant.
"They're paying me to win a championship," he told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. "I'm not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don't feel like we did anything terribly egregious."
This really is quite a pickle. Coaches and general managers want to keep their stars healthy, fans pay big money ahead of time to come to the arena and watch star players, and TV networks paying the league big money want star matchups to boost ratings. Silver is caught between protecting the long-term quality of the product and pleasing the paying customers.
What can be done to appease both sides? The best solution would be to play a shorter regular season, but that would mean less money, so it ain't gonna happen. In more realistic move, players and owners have already agreed to shorten the preseason in order to start the regular season ten days earlier, which should eliminate most of the back-to-back games that take such a toll on the body. Could the league perhaps work with teams before the season to craft a schedule of designated rest days—games in which coaches can rest player without repercussions? That would at least give spectators and TV networks ample warning.
No matter what happens, however, you can be damn sure the people footing the bills will always come first.