• One Big Thing: Give it a Rest

    There’s an immense amount of data out there and sports science is setting a new high mark with each passing day. Teams are smarter about keeping their players healthy (at least some are, according to Eric Gordon) and athletes themselves have been more proactive about recuperation and getting their bodies right.

    It really shouldn’t be a surprise to see that take precedent over a handful of games in the regular season, particularly those involving legitimate title contenders. It used to be that rest days only popped up when teams had nothing left to play for at the end of the season, but they’ve become increasingly common over the past few years.

    Some of that might be the copycat effect- the San Antonio Spurs have been the most prominent practitioner of the strategy and they seem to know what they’re doing. Some of it is just the natural evolution of teams protecting their investments for when it matters most.

    It’s difficult to blame teams for resting their stars considering everything at stake. While Cleveland came under fire for keeping their Big Three at home for their trip to Memphis, it makes zero sense to risk anything by forcing their elite players to play in that game. And if that’s the case, they absolutely should be resting at home without having to face the burden of travel.

    The Kings made a slightly more curious decision by resting DeMarcus Cousins on a random Wednesday night. It wasn’t a back-to-back situation and you’d assume that the Kings are trying to win games (so they can convince Cousins to stay? So they can convince Rudy Gay to stay? I don’t know, the jokes write themselves. The pieces are there and you can put your own wisecrack together). But still, there’s no harm in three full days of rest for someone who takes a physical pounding in the paint like Boogie. It’s a little odd but it’s far from insane.

    That said, the backlash is fair. Fans pay to see stars, especially if you’re in a situation like Cleveland was in Memphis. Tickets for matchups with the game’s elite often go for far more on the secondary market than the average affair and teams across all sports have taken to dynamic pricing structures to capitalize on the supply and demand for hot tickets. It’s an especially cruel decision for road games, where people might have shelled out good money for LeBron’s only appearance on the year. In essence, after all the decision making is complete, the local customer is the one who takes the hit. It’s not an easy situation for anyone to be in but the fans are the only ones with money out of pocket.

    Organizations are surely aware that basketball is a product. People come to the game to be entertained and the NBA is typically pretty good about recognizing that. They don’t obsess over the culture of conformity present in hockey. Unlike baseball players, NBA guys don’t crow about ‘respecting the game’ if someone celebrates a bit. The league lends itself to online sharing- its gif-worthy moments get spread like wildfire while the NFL limits the content its own teams can share. Basketball’s soaring popularity is in part because of the acknowledgment that the sport and its athletes are the product that fans pay to see, and they’re given pretty free reign to make things as entertaining as possible.

    That’s why the league was right to fine the Spurs for resting their starters in a national TV game. TV is a huge revenue generator for the league and it’s important to partake in the national games for the greater good. As utilitarian as that may sound, a national TV slot also presents individual teams a chance to capture new fans who might be seeing their first game or have minimal ties to another franchise. It’s great exposure that can benefit all parties if you’re willing to partake.

    It’s also likely one of the reasons why the schedule continues to space out. The season will start earlier and earlier and back-to-back situations are becoming less frequent. It’s good for the league to make these changes in the name of player safety, but let’s not deny that adding rest days to the schedule makes it more likely that players get into more games and help the league grow its profile and keep the paying customers happy. Another win-win.

    Ultimately the decision lies with the team, and it’s their prerogative whether certain guys play or not. It’d be a shame to have a star go down in the regular season and miss the playoffs when league gets maximum exposure, especially if you’re a team like Cleveland or Golden State who will be there in the conference finals.

    While it’s not the fairest situation in the world, you’re taking your chances when you buy a ticket during a rough part of the schedule. Even with a less arduous schedule on the horizon, the rest phenomenon isn’t going away. There’s just too much at stake.

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