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Sitting NBA players for regular-season games remains a hot-button issue for the league.
The topic has been in the news for the past week following Golden State’s decision to sit Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala against San Antonio March 11 on a Saturday night ABC game and Cleveland’s decision to sit LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.
Though the league is working to reduce instances in which teams sit players through thoughtful scheduling, the issue isn’t going away. Here is a look at NBA commissioner’s Adam Silver comments and philosophy on the topic in the past couple of years, starting with the February All-Star Game in New Orleans and going back to April 17, 2015:
Feb. 18, 2017
Q. With the new CBA and the seasons now being able to start earlier and hopefully the elimination of four-in-fives and things of that nature, at least the limiting of them, are you hopeful that one of the by-products of that will be alleviating this problem of guys resting, particularly when they come to an NBA city only once in a season? Are you hopeful there might be some solutions on that front or at least some minimization of all that?
Adam Silver: Yes. The answer is, in fact, yes, that’s why we’re adding the extra week to the season. So everyone understands, we’ve reduced, in essence, our preseason. We’ve reduced the number of games we’ll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season.
As I said before, every day makes a big difference in creating the schedule. That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players.
So, we do hope it will cut down on the resting of players in marquee games. I do recognize, though, that there isn’t an easy solution to that problem, and I’m sympathetic to fans who turn out — whether they buy tickets to games or watching games on television and don’t see their favorite player on the floor. But we also have to be realistic that the science has gotten to the point where there is that direct correlation that we’re aware of between fatigue and injuries. And as tough as it is on our fans to miss one of their favorite players for a game, it’s far better than having them get injured and be out for long periods of time. So, we’re always still looking to strike that right balance.
But clearly, one of the ways that we can work to minimize the resting is to add number of days to the schedule, which will add additional rest.
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April 15, 2016
Q. Obviously you’ve made a lot of tweaks to the schedule this year to try to find more player rest, but players playing 82 games is down significantly from five, ten years ago, to the point where it looks like they don’t want to play 82 games, coaches don’t want to play them 82 games, a lot of healthy rest and shutting players down. Do you have any concerns, I understand if you play more games financially it’s more money, but simply people don’t want to play that many games anymore?
Adam Silver: You know, I’m so happy you asked that question because I was listening to one of our commentators on one of our networks the other night saying, sort of a form of your question, saying that the players don’t want to play 82 games. In defense of our players, every player I know wants to play 82 games. It’s their coaches and their organizations that are deciding that they shouldn’t be playing 82 games. As we all know in this room, players want minutes. They want games. So I think, first of all, players want to play, and what we see has happened in this league, frankly the data has gotten better, the analytics have gotten more sophisticated, that there’s a strategy of resting players occasionally.
I am concerned more from a fan standpoint. I certainly get lots of emails and have discussions with fans, especially ones who may have a one-time opportunity or once-in-a-season opportunity to see a particular player and then that player rests. I don’t have an easy answer to that. One, there’s a reason why our rosters are – they’re 13 actually now. They used to be 12, now they’re 13, and teams can have up to 15 players under contract, and so, one, what we’re seeing is teams are going deeper into their benches. When you think about it in terms of the NBA, we have the 430 greatest players in the world, and I think that’s part of what we all have to get used to, that players who aren’t the superstars will get more minutes in this league.
I’m also not sure it’s just a function of an 82-game schedule. One, in terms of correlation with injuries, the best data we have is that the connection is with fatigue rather than absolute numbers of games in the season. I mean, as I’ve pointed out before, it’s not as if we have more injuries toward the latter part of the season than earlier in the season. Where the correlation comes is when guys are tired, and because we understand that, what we have done with where we can do a better job is with scheduling, so we dramatically reduced back-to-backs and four games in five nights. We actually had a presentation at the Board of Governors meeting from our head of analytics, a young man named Evan Wasch, talking about how we’re even going to get that much more sophisticated about the scheduling process for next year.
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So, I think we can do more. I have no doubt, but one of the things we’ll be talking to the Players’ Association about is the preseason, and can we find some additional days over which to spread the 82 games.
So, first of all, you’re right, nobody wants to shorten the season right now. The players don’t want it shortened, the NBA doesn’t want it and I don’t think our fans want to see it shortened. My sense is when the season is over, fans quickly turn to the Summer League and want even more NBA basketball. But can we do a better job keeping players healthy and on the floor? I think the answer is yes.
We entered into a relationship with GE Healthcare out in Milwaukee about collecting sort of the best scientific information, the best medical information and collaborating with our teams on the best rehabilitation, the best techniques for prevention. So those are all things that we’re focused on.
But it’s not unique to this sport certainly. In European soccer, with their multiple tournaments, they also strategically rest players at certain times, and I think it’s just — I don’t think we can turn the clock back there. I think that that is going to become part of our game.
But again, coaches and teams have different philosophies, as well. I’ve been listening to a few coaches recently who also get concerned that when you rest players, they get out of rhythm, as well, and ultimately I’ll just say, as we go into our playoffs now, it quickly switches to the criticisms that there’s too much rest built into our playoff schedule, and people say, Oh, I can’t believe there are three days before a team plays again.
We’re always trying to find the right balance, but I think the good news is about the way our playoff schedule is set up, and actually, we added even an extra day in The Finals this year, so once we get into the playoffs that the players do have an opportunity to sort of get their legs back and get adequate rest between games, which to me ensures the best possible competition.
Oct. 23, 2015
Q. Sports science has taken hold in the league. The league is tracking injuries, the density of the schedule more thoroughly than ever. The players’ union has a full?time sports scientist. How open are owners to the idea that the regular season might not always be 82 games?
Adam Silver: You know, I’d say the new generation of owners who are part of this league are incredibly open?minded on all issues. I should have said earlier, for someone like me who has been involved in the league for over two decades now, the level of engagement at these owners’ meetings is at an all?time high. They come in prepared with strong views on the issues. Some of them have real expertise on technology, on the issues of health. They have big staffs themselves, the teams that are studying these issues so well.
We haven’t had a discussion as to a different number of regular?season games. And, look, a lot of the economics of this league, the investments that go into our arenas are built, are predicated on the current regular season we have now.
Same for the players, by the way, because they’re sophisticated as well and they understand if you reduce the number of games in the season, there will be an economic impact on us both.
Having said that, we also recognize that the health and well?being of the players is critically important, not just for injuries that cause them to lose games, but in terms of their ability to perform at a high level.
I will say that with all the health science that’s now going into the examination of the schedule, both from the players’ union and from the league, what we’ve concluded so far is the critical issue is fatigue, not necessarily the number of games that are played. As a simple matter, you don’t see more injuries the latter half of the season than you do early in the season. Where you see the direct correlation so far is when players are tired, coming out of four games out of five nights, back?to?backs, et cetera. As a result, that’s why you see much more sophistication of minutes management by coaches and general managers in this league right now.
So the league has taken a new approach. The schedule, we’re successful in practically eliminating four out of five, four games in five nights, dramatically reducing the number of back?to?backs. In an ongoing discussion with the union, it’s necessarily less about reducing the number of games in the regular season, but maybe spreading the schedule out a little bit more to create more rest.
But we’re open?minded on it and it’s something we’re continuing to look at.
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April 17, 2015
Q. To follow up on the scheduling question, assuming you’re able to make progress and get some relief in terms of back-to-backs and four in five nights, can you envision the league engaging the coaches in discussions about resting mostly healthy players and even considering guidelines, whether it’s home games, away games, nationally televised games, anything like that?
Adam Silver: You know, we’re always talking to coaches about those things and coaches are members of our competition committee, so it’s been an ongoing discussion. I would say my personal view is I would rather not engage in discussions with coaches and GMs on playing time. I think that’s a core responsibility of the team and I think it’s a very slippery slope for the league office to start getting in the business of telling a coach or team what minutes a player should play.
Having said that, I’m mindful and I get lots of emails and letters from disappointed fans who say this was my one opportunity to see this player play the one time that that team came to my city, or I’m in that city and I spent a lot of money for tickets. I recognize there is the business side of this. But I think ultimately on balance, our mantra is The Game Above All in the league office, and so I’m always reluctant to tinker with the game in that way. And I think for the great coaches and the great teams in this league, ultimately our fans want to see them put themselves in the best position to win over time. And I’ll say resting players is not a unique issue to this league, especially as I study international leagues and international soccer leagues more, there’s resting and patterns of resting that go on in other leagues.
As a fan, I’m not crazy about it. I’m not happy when I go to a game or tune in a game and see one of my favorite players isn’t on the floor that night. As I said, having said that, I don’t have an easy answer, and I don’t think the answer is minute quotas or you can’t rest on the road but you can rest at home. I think ultimately these decisions have to be left to our owners and to acknowledgment that they’re partners in this league. And while winning is critically important, it’s a zero sum game in this league in terms of wins and losses, and they’re also partners in a larger enterprise and they have to be mindful and never forget that but for the fans, we wouldn’t be here.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.