The NBA continues to follow through on its promise to build additional rest time into the schedule for the 2017-18 season, taking a number of additional steps to eliminate taxing portions of the 82-game slate.
Most notably, the league has taken measures in hopes of preventing teams from resting star players for high-profile national TV broadcasts, attempting to ensure no such game will be a back-to-back.
Details of the NBA’s new schedule, believed to be finalized and shared, at least in part, this week, were shared in a league-wide memo to teams that was revealed by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on Tuesday.
By shortening the preseason and moving the start of the regular season up one week to Oct. 17, the league has completely eliminated stretches of 18 games in 30 days and four games in five nights (there were 21 such instances in 2016-17). Additionally, the number of back-to-back games from last year’s total of 482 has been reduced by almost 10 percent (on average, about one fewer per team).
The NBA also: reduced the number of stretches of five games in seven nights by more than half of last year’s total of 90; decreased the number of single-game road trips, especially those requiring travel more than 2,000 miles, of which there are now only 11 occasions throughout the entire schedule; and added 19 weekend games, when in the past the league might have avoided conflicts with football.
As for nationally televised games, it’s difficult for the league to determine which will be its most high profile, without the benefit of knowing standings, injuries and trades in advance. Still, it’s probably safe to assume that when, say, teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets meet, plenty of viewers will be sitting in front of their TVs.
So, by eliminating back-to-backs around certain matchups, the NBA is sending a message to teams that it would prefer stars no longer rest for national TV games. We shall see if teams heed the advice.
The league ran into controversy this past season, when in back-to-back weeks for the league’s Saturday prime-time “showcase” game, the Warriors rested Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — with Kevin Durant already injured — against the San Antonio Spurs, and then the Cavaliers sat LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. ABC commentators Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy went so far as to respectively call the practice “an absolute joke” and “a prosecutable offense” during the Cavaliers-Clippers broadcast.
Golden State’s Saturday night game against the Spurs marked their fifth game in seven nights, and the Warriors had played the Timberwolves in Minnesota on the previous night. A week later, the Cavaliers were in the midst of a stretch of six games in nine nights, and after facing the Clippers, they were scheduled to stay in Los Angeles and play the Lakers the following night. While Cleveland’s situation may not have seemed to necessitate rest as much, it nonetheless set off a firestorm over the issue.
“I don’t think the NBA can do anything about it,” James told reporters after beating the Lakers the following night. “At the end of the day, it sucks at times where certain guys have to rest, but certain guys need rest.
“And it’s a long, strenuous season and the NBA does a great job of putting the schedule together as best as they can. You’re going to have back-to-backs. You’re going to have certain games where certain things fall on certain nights, but a coach’s job is to figure out a way for their team to compete for a championship, not compete for a game.”
To which NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly responded with a memo in March warning of “significant penalties” for teams failing to provide advance notice of player rest, so as to avoid fans traveling great distances and spending considerable money to see players on the bench for the night — not to mention fans tuning out for TV games that stations and advertisers paid good money for.
Essentially, the national TV dilemma put what’s best for the players against what’s best for the league.
The issue became a focus of an owners’ meeting this past April. “There is a recognition from teams that on one hand a certain amount of resting is just inevitable and appropriate to keep the players healthy, but that they shouldn’t be resting multiple starters on the same night,” Silver said in his June state-of-the-league address. “And, incidentally, wherever possible, they should rest at home. Because there, while I feel for the home fans, just as much as the away fans, the away fans may only get a chance to see that team once. And of course the home team fans can see that team many times.”
On Marc Stein’s podcast in mid-June, Silver raised the possibility of implementing guidelines that will restrict teams from resting players for road games and resting multiple starters for the same game:
“We had a conference call with the competition committee earlier today, and as I had said the other day, where we’re heading is the adoption of a set of guidelines that will be in place for next season which will strongly recommend that the extent players are rested, they’re rested at home and not rest multiple starters on the same night.”
Such measures would require approval of the players’ union, as the issue came to a head after the two sides agreed on the new collective bargaining agreement, and it’s unclear whether these guidelines will be in effect this season. The league can certainly “strongly recommend” against specific resting instances without union approval, and perhaps the new schedule is one way of doing just that.
While the extended season and fewer taxing stretches of the 2017-18 slate represent a good-faith effort by the league to address the rest conundrum, the NBA also recently approved in-game changes that decrease the number of timeouts and limit the breaks between action to speed up game flow this year. This represents its own set of game-to-game issues that may require players to rest more often.
The reality is that no scheduling change, at least so long as the 82-game season still exists, can completely satisfy all parties — the league and its teams, players and fans — but at least the NBA is living up to its promise to address scheduling issues during the offseason. We shall see if teams and players respond in kind, and only then will we find out how fans really feel about all these changes.
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