Why It's a Problem for the NBA to Rest Players
A lot has been made recently of NBA players sitting out games in which they aren't injured. For many years players have sat out the last one or two games of the season if they had little nagging injuries or their team has secured a playoff spot. Now players are sitting out in December, January, and March when there are still 30, 40, or 60 games left in the season. This practice has been noted for about the last 10 years but hasn't really come to the forefront until recently.
Two consecutive Saturday night prime time games on ABC have been marred by teams sitting players out. On March 11, 2017, the Golden State Warriors sat out stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala in the game against the San Antonio Spurs. On March 18 the following week, the Cleveland Cavaliers sat out their big three of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love against the Los Angeles Clippers. Resting players in the middle of the season really wasn't a thing until it was popularized by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
On November 29, 2012, coach Popovich rested four starters for a prime time game against the Miami Heat on TNT. Then-commissioner David Stern fined Popovich and the Spurs organization $250,000 but at that point, it still wasn't seen as a big deal like it is now.
After the Cavaliers opted to rest players, NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent memos to team owners saying that there will be 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. This season has seen an increase in DNP decisions due to rest from last years high of 146.
Over the course of the 82-game season, it is understandable that a player may need rest. The sport of basketball can be physically taxing. Perhaps not to the extent of some other mainstream sports like football and hockey but it still puts a lot of wear and tear on your body. When it comes to rest, I believe there are times and places where players should get it. If a player is looking for the best time to rest, then why not sit out the home games?
Teams play 41 times a season in front of their home crowd so if a player were to sit out 1, 2, 5, or 10 games, then the fans in the area would still have at least 31 opportunities to see their favorite players. When you sit out a road game, that may be the only time a fan in that city can see their favorite star player in person. In the NBA, teams only play out of conference opponents one time on the road and in conference opponents a maximum of two times on the road during the regular season.
Personally, I believe that when you sign your contract there is an unspoken agreement to be available to play 82 regular season games with 88 days off during the season, unless you’re injured or there are extenuating personal circumstances. There are also expectations to play up to 28 playoff games with 38 days off in there before going into the two- to three-month offseason.
The NBA has a problem with sit outs when they happen on nationally televised games. Sitting out a random Tuesday evening game is a big deal to the fans, let alone a primetime game on Saturday. The support of the fans is what makes the salaries possible because without popularity and people wanting to come see the game the NBA wouldn't be able to sell tickets, which in turn would lower the amount distributed back into the pockets of the owners and players. TV networks sign deals for broadcast rights on national TV expecting a certain product.
In 2014, the NBA signed a nine-year, 24 billion dollar TV rights deal with TNT and ESPN/ABC. The money from the deal led to an increase in the salary cap from $67.1 million to $89 million from the 2015-16 season. The salary cap went up to $99.093 million in the 2017-18 season. This will lead to greater player salaries. The average salary in 2017 went up to $5.15 million. If networks can't be certain that the best product available will be given to them, then they may want to reevaluate their TV contract. If fans can't ensure that the best product available won't be on the court, then maybe they would want a refund or stop going to regular season games altogether. If people turn off their TVs and stop coming to the games, there would be a decrease in player salaries (players get a 50% share of revenue) and I don't think players want that.
NBA tickets aren't exactly cheap either. In order to bring a family of four to a game, it would cost a person roughly $216 on average, not including the parking or if you wanted to eat anything while there. The Lakers and Knicks would cost over $400 in the same scenario; that's a lot of money for a potentially uncertain product.
Resting players also has effects on competitive balance. A team may rest players during the heat of a playoff race where one game could decide whether they go on to the next round. When you rest players you are intentionally not fielding the best team available for a given game.
1. Shorten the NBA Season
There are small steps being taken to prevent the need for rest. The NBA started the 2017-18 season ten days earlier. This will give players 98 scheduled days off during the season. A better solution would be cutting the season to 60 games. It would lead to an ideal schedule in terms of preventing fatigue. It is widely believed that the NBA season has too many meaningless games.
82 games is really an arbitrary number. Schedules are unbalanced and no team has the same in-conference, non-division schedule. Cutting the season down would have monetary drawbacks. TV deals would have to be restructured because there aren't as many games to choose from. Players would have to be okay with taking smaller salaries because 20 fewer games should see a decrease in stadium revenue. Any organization or team that is for resting players should also be okay with making less money. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
2. Change the Meaning of DNP Rest
Injuries are a part of basketball or any sport for that matter. Missing games because of injuries is uncontrollable. If DNP rest could be looked at as an injury with consequences, it would change how coaches use this tactic. If a player sits out due to rest, he needs to be on the injured list. If you're on the injury list, you must be inactive for at least a week. On average that would cause a player 3-4 games.
3. Limit Player Minutes
Another option would be limiting minutes or changing rotations for a couple of games. If a player typically plays 35 minutes a night, maybe play them for 20 minutes in the next game. Over time, the fewer minutes that played would build rest time up to be nearly the equivalent of sitting out a game. This would still give the fans more games to watch them play.
At the end of the day, how teams manage their players should be up to the organizations. If the teams and the league are willing to deal with the consequences that come with it, so be it. Businesses that promise one thing but deliver another don't have the best track record for success.
© 2017 Lawrence Wilson