NBA Grapples With Problem of Resting Superstars Before Playoffs

Commissioner, coaches and LeBron James all weigh in on whether or not players should be able to sit out games when they aren't injured

LeBron James thinks resting star players is only a problem now that he's doing it Credit: Harry How/Getty

With the playoffs looming on the horizon, the big topic of conversation in the NBA lately has all been about rest. While Gregg Popovich has been benching players for years with the intention of keeping them as fresh as possible for the postseason, it became a league-wide issue again when the Golden State Warriors sat out Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala for a highly anticipated matchup with Popovich's San Antonio Spurs on March 11th. Then, a week later, the Cleveland Cavaliers added to the NBA's problem by keeping LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out for the lineup for a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. James believes he's at the center of the issue. "I don't understand why it's become a problem now," he said. "Because I started to sit out a couple of games?"

That could explain it, especially since the NBA recently agreed to a television deal worth $24 billion over nine years with ESPN, and both of those games on national TV featured some of the biggest names in the game. It kicked off a fierce debate on what fans want to see when they go to or watch basketball games and the health and interests of the teams and the players. 

Hall of Famer Karl Malone made his feelings on the subject well known – "If you don't have at least 10 years experience," he said, "get your ass playing" –  but others, like Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, are hoping to find a solution that works for everyone. Even if that solution, as Kerr explained, means playing fewer regular season games and making less money for him in the long-run.

"I wouldn't be opposed to [making the regular season shorter], even at the expense of my own salary, but it's something that everyone would have to agree to," said Kerr. "I think even just going down to 75 games. I think that would make a dramatic difference in schedule. Now I don't see that happening because there is money at stake for everybody.”

Kerr's comments come a day after NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to the NBA's board of governors about how resting starters is a "significant issue for our league." Silver said decisions of this kind can "affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game." He also reminded teams of the rules about how the league office, the team's opponent and media are supposed to be given notice when a player will sit out a game due to rest. That final point is one of the reasons the NBA fined Popovich $250,000 for keeping Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green out of a regular season game against the Miami Heat in 2012.

Popovich weighed in on the latest round of controversy, and seems confident some good will come out of it.

"Luckily all the participants are sane people and care about the same thing and want to get it right. It's not about anybody having power or wanting to issue orders. It's about trying to get it right. That's the great thing about the league and what we're doing. It's all good," he said.