Resting players as the postseason approaches has become a growing and controversial issue as more teams adopt the philosophy of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and give key players games off late in the season.
The most egregious act occurred Wednesday night when the downtrodden Kings sat Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison, and All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in their season-ending contest against the Rockets.
It was a meaningless game for the Kings, but the Rockets needed a victory to clinch the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Kings kept their best players out of action, and the Rockets won by 35 points.
Such a tactic did not go over well with TNT analysts Reggie Miller and Chris Webber.
“I prided myself in going out there and playing, even if it was 20 minutes in Games 80, 81, and 82,” Miller said. “I always felt like there could be some kid or family that has a chance to come to their first game ever and that’s the game they chose and even if you’re out there for 15, 20 minutes, I felt it was my duty.
“Having said all that, only a coach can understand the resting of players in preparation of a long, strenuous playoff run. Look, if you’re Popovich and some of these other coaches, you have got to do what’s best for your team. And with the success of the Spurs, that’s why we don’t question [Popovich] anymore.”
So what about losing teams that rest their stars.
“What else have you been playing for all year? You have no right or authority to be resting. It’s ridiculous,” said Miller. “But again, it goes to the individual person. I took pride in that because you never know who’s coming to their first game ever. And I always felt if I was 75, 80 percent, I could play. I might not play well or great, but I could play and that was good enough.”
Webber, a former King, lamented players taking days off.
“I agree with [Miller] as far as the fact that the culture is different,” Webber said. “Because it’s a copy-cat league, you can copy a guy like Popovich without having the success of him and without having to validate it.
“It doesn’t make any sense. I could understand if I had a nagging injury and if you’re fighting something and you’re really hurt and you don’t want to risk it that much more. I definitely understand that. I understand if the coach wants to give this guy some rest, maybe if it’s two back-to-backs and you’re starting the playoffs on Saturday. But as far as teams that don’t have any chance of making the playoffs, it used to be the only thing you had to do is play the season out with a little bit of honor and just honor the fact that you’re going to give it your all the whole season and your record doesn’t indicate your effort. It just seems times have changed.”
Former Celtics great Kevin McHale, who was fired by the Rockets in November after four seasons as coach, appeared bewildered as to why this generation of players has little issue with missing games.
That wasn’t the case in McHale’s day.
“This rest stuff just drives me crazy,” McHale said. “You’re playing basketball for a living, OK? I understand if you’re working in the coal mines and they may need a rest day after. But you’re playing basketball. The joy that comes with competing in basketball, it’s fun to play. I never got tired in a game. How could you get tired in a game, playing basketball? I don’t understand this.
“Honestly, I started thinking I must have missed out on something, the 9-to-5 [job] the [fan] is doing before he comes to the game. He must be putting in some serious work there, in the mines or doing something. Maybe he’s a logger. Maybe he’s chopping wood.
“[The players have] all day to sit on your rear end. You’re just resting. I don’t believe in it. Yeah, guys rested late in the season [in the 1980s], but I think until we had everything cinched up, I don’t think guys were thinking about resting.”
MORE OR LESS THE ISSUE
Schedule length will be discussed
Commissioner Adam Silver was asked about the detrimental effect for fans when teams rest their star players, creating an inferior product while ticket prices remain the same.
“I was listening to one of our commentators on one of our networks the other night saying that the players don’t want to play 82 games,” Silver said Friday. “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.”
Some players have suggested reducing the schedule to perhaps 66 games, as it was in the 2011-12 lockout season. But that would come with financial repercussions such as salary slashing if a reduced schedule were to be collectively bargained. Silver remains committed to an 82-game schedule, and the league adjusted the schedule this season to create more off days.
But it appears players were seeking more rest as the season concluded.
“I’m also not sure it’s just a function of an 82-game schedule,” Silver said. “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
“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 you know, 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.”
These days, Lin lives in shadows
Linsanity was four years ago, the magical and stirring time when former Harvard standout Jeremy Lin captivated the basketball world by helping make the Knicks relevant again with his sparkling point guard play.
He then signed a big deal with Houston, and two years later was traded to the Lakers. His minutes decreased, and he appeared on the downside of his career.
Lin has resurrected his status in Charlotte, where he has become a valuable sixth man. He scored 21 first-half points in the Hornets’ key win over the Celtics last Monday and finished with 25.
He was asked about the pressure of playing in New York amid Linsanity and what it’s like now in Charlotte.
“I think for me, I’m just in a different place mentally, where I’m really able to enjoy everything,” Lin said. “And I’ve been able to enjoy this season more than ever before, and I feel like a big reason why is just because I feel like God has taught me a lot, seriously, where it’s just — I’m not as obsessed with, ‘I have to accomplish this, this, or this,’ versus I’m more really just trying to enjoy every day and have the right mind-set and live and play with joy.”
The novelty of Lin playing in the NBA is gone. This season he has proven his versatility as a backup to Kemba Walker.
“I’m just a different person mentally right now than I was three or maybe four years ago when I was in New York,” he said. “Does that mean I don’t want to start or whatever? Every player wants to start. Every player wants to start and be the man and all that. There’s no question that’s me included. But I think there’s something special going on in Charlotte, and so for me to sacrifice, come off the bench and try to help this team win, I feel like it’s been rewarding.”
Time to cultivate talk of seedings?
The Board of Governors conducted coin flips Friday to break ties regarding draft position. The Celtics, Hawks, Heat, and Hornets all finished with a 48-34 record. The Celtics will pick at No. 23 after losing coin flips to the Hawks (No. 21) and Hornets (No. 22) but winning a flip with the Heat (No. 24).
“We’ve talked a lot about seeding in the past,” said commissioner Adam Silver. “We didn’t talk about it at this meeting, but in the last several years there have been several presentations from the league office made to teams, and we’ve considered various other ways of doing it.”
There are some who believe the NBA should eliminate conference affiliation in the postseason and seed playoff teams based on record. Silver believes there are challenges to that concept.
“I know that from a fan standpoint, there is real appeal to this notion of seed your teams 1 through 16 going into the playoffs and possibly two Western Conference teams could meet in the Finals or two Eastern Conference teams, and where we ended up was that — again, it relates directly to the resting issue and injury data, is that we would be dramatically increasing travel because if we’re going to seed 1 through 16 we would need to have more of a balanced schedule throughout the year,” Silver said.
“That would result in more travel. You could have a Boston-Golden State first-round matchup in the playoffs. It’s something we continue to look at. The current state of our seedings and drawings are what we think is the best way of doing it at the moment. I mean, maybe as planes get faster, new approaches to the season, we’ll look at other ways to do it, but it’s always a balancing act, as with so many things, so I’m comfortable with where it currently stands.”
The Board of Governors approved advertisements on game jerseys, something that has been expected since Silver took over more than two years ago. The patches will appear on the front left of jerseys and will be 2½ inches by 2½ inches. Teams will be responsible for selling the ads, meaning those sponsorships are likely to come from local companies or companies that already sponsor the team. The WNBA approved advertisements a few years ago, causing the league to lose its identity because teams were allowed to replace the team name on the front of the jersey with a sponsorship. NBA jersey ads will be more subtle, but the practice should last a lot longer than the initial three-year trial . . . The Lakers have to make a decision on the future of coach Byron Scott, and it is no cinch that he will be removed. Scott used a tough-love approach with his young team in this transition season and the results were a disaster. But team management realized Scott had to deal with the farewell season of Kobe Bryant and attempt to tutor young stars such as Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, who played prominent roles. The Lakers finished with the league’s second-worst record, meaning their chances of keeping their first-round pick – which is top-three protected — are better. The Lakers job is still a coveted position, but general manager Mitch Kupchak has to determine whether to remove Scott despite the fact he never had a chance at a winning season in two years on the job . . . The play of Courtney Lee, whom the Hornets acquired from the Grizzlies, has pushed ex-UConn standout Jeremy Lamb deeper down the bench. Lamb did not play in the Hornets’ impressive 114-100 win over the Celtics last Monday. Lamb was a regular in the rotation before an injury cost him time at the end of January. Since then his minutes have been sporadic, while Lee, shooting nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line in 28 games with Charlotte, has played big minutes at shooting guard. Lamb signed a three-year deal with the Hornets last November after riding the bench in Oklahoma City, but he appears in a similar situation in Charlotte.
General manager Sam Hinkie resigned after the 76ers suffered through another terrible season. A look back at his forgettable reign:
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.