Adam Silver Needs To Give It A Rest

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by  Keith Allison

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Keith Allison

We live in a time of gross overstatements. Ever hear Hollywood is like 1930′s Germany for conservatives? How about Lonzo Ball’s father LaVar boasting he could have beat Michael Jordan one on one. Or a popular NBA talking point making the rounds today is rest days are the most critical issue in the NBA. That’s a statement recently spouted off by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. The only way that’s true is if the NBA has zero problems, and trust me they do not. Rest for NBA stars is a debate that’s become a hot topic lately due to teams giving the biggest and best stars days off in order to keep them fresh and healthy for the playoffs. This issue has been an issue in the past with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reading his stars, and getting promptly fined.

This season, it again came to a head when the Warriors and then the Cavaliers, the teams that have met in the last two NBA finals, rested essentially all of their marquee players in back to back Saturday night games of the week. Saturday night games are a new feature the NBA and ABC are trying this year. After those games ratings were terrible and both games were blowouts, Commissioner Silver’s initial solution was to have owners become involved in deciding when players get rest. Owners? You mean the billionaires who don’t pay attention to the games half the time? Silver needs to realize rest needs to be allowed and that there’s a bigger problem facing the league.

I don’t mean to sound heartless to fans. I understand I can’t discount the people who pay hundreds of dollars to see LeBron James or Steph Curry play only to get stuck watching the B squad. For starters, it helps to understand that these players are “only” rested during away games. That means the majority of the fans in attendance are seeing their favorite team with their best players anyway. It still stings if you paid top dollar to see your team face off against a specific star player, only to have him sit out. Teams aren’t trying to snub fans. They are trying to put themselves into the best position to do the thing that matters most, win a championship. You can argue the fans are more important all you want, but as a coach if you don’t win, the fans will eventually turn on you and you’ll be out of a job. No one freaks out when Angels superstar Mike Trout gets a day off. No one freaks out when Tom Brady doesn’t play Week 17 because the Patriots have clinched postseason position. Coaches have to protect their most vital asset if they want a chance at a ring.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at an example involving the best player in the NBA, LeBron James. LeBron has played in six straight NBA finals — an astonishing stat that still doesn’t get the respect it deserves. That means each of the last six seasons LeBron has played in four additional best-of-seven game series per season. Let’s say on average a series goes five or six games. That means LeBron plays an additional 20 to 24 games per season. Multiply that over six seasons and LeBron is playing in 120 to 144 more games than the average player over that same span. That doesn’t even include all the other years he’s made the playoffs. The initial instinct might be to say that not everyone plays in as many extra games as LeBron, which is true. You’re kidding yourself though if you don’t believe that this controversy revolves mostly around James. The only other players involved are the ones who also always find themselves going deep in the playoffs…like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, or the Spurs trio before Tim Duncan retired. The rest debate centers really only around a handful of players. It’s doubtful it would be national news if Jimmy Butler or John Wall sat for a game, yet these are both players all but guaranteed to make one of the three All-NBA teams.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden have played in nearly every game this year! Well, Russ did finally get a well deserved break in game 81. But both played in 81 of 82 regular season games. So why can’t all players do that? Maybe their legs will run out of gas if they go deep into the playoffs. Maybe they will be more susceptible to injury simply from playing more often. I applaud their consistency. It’s commendable. Westbrook’s durability has been almost superhuman this season. But that does not mean players who rest should be vilified. Steve Kerr rested four Warriors in a Saturday night game in question because the team had a terrible week. If a baseball player goes 0 for 15 that week, you can bet he’s getting a day off. It’s the coach’s discretion and there’s not always convenient options of when to sit them. For example, after that Saturday night debacle, six of the Warriors next eight games were nationally televised and five of them were at home. Coaches are hired to make those kind of tough decisions and those decisions should be based off what’s best for the team, not necessarily the fans.

Former players constantly complain about resting players because they never used to take days off. Charles Barkley complained and instructed fans to boycott games if it continues. Maybe if Barkley would have taken some days off, he would have had a better chance to win a ring. Sports have changed. Injuries are way more prevalent throughout sports and there’s more money than ever invested in these athletes. Also keep in mind that these aren’t 23 year olds getting rest. When Popovich started this whole thing by resting Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli, they were in their 30′s. LeBron didn’t take days off when he was 25, but now that’s he’s 32, it makes perfect sense. Steph Curry takes days off but he’s 29 and has a history of injuries. This isn’t some conspiracy to try and ruin the NBA’s ratings. It’s common sense. Most players want to be out there every night. Sometimes that’s not in their best interests.

It’s easy to defend Adam Silver because he’s defending the fans, right? Don’t pretend for one second that this isn’t anything but an issue of revenue and ratings more than it is about giving the paying fans the best experience possible. This didn’t bubble over into “the biggest problem in the NBA” until those back to back nationally televised Saturday games. I’m not implying that teams shouldn’t make a concerted effort to avoid benching players for national games, but punishing a team for doing so is outlandish.

Threatening harsh penalties will not fix the problem. You will just see more players showing up on injury reports who aren’t actually hurt. Ever seen a Bill Belichick weekly injury report? It’s essentially the team roster.

The NBA could help it’s own cause too. Doc Rivers, former NBA player and current head coach of the Clippers, understands the concern but also gave a solution: Don’t schedule teams for national games on back to back nights. That would be an easy fix — IF there were more than a half dozen teams the NBA even wanted to televise nationally on a consistent basis. The problem isn’t resting players. The problem is the league is too top heavy. Baseball has more parity and they don’t even have a salary cap. The NBA shot themselves in the foot by setting a cap that allowed one of the top three players in in the league, Kevin Durant, to sign with the team that has gone to the NBA finals two years in a row, not to mention coming off a league record 73 wins. The league has to be realistic. Telling coaches they can’t rest their players fixes nothing. In fact, it handicaps coaches from doing their jobs properly and protecting the league’s product. Don’t punish the best teams and the best players for being the best. It’s an 82 game season with the possibility of going over 100 games if you make a deep run in the playoffs. Don’t hate the players. Hate the lack of parity.