OAKLAND, Calif. — NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the player rest issue that plagued the 2016-17 campaign has been recognized by the league’s owners as “inevitable,” but he is still seeking alternative solutions to the problem.
Speaking to the media at his annual news conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Silver rejected the idea of expanding the regular-season schedule beyond the additional week that has been planned for the 2017-18 season but said the league could reduce the amount of back-to-back games teams play by working with the host venues.
“(We are) requiring our arenas to free up more dates,” Silver said Thursday. “We’re competing against everything else that happens in these buildings, so you can only imagine the number of permutations that go into the computer program. But if we can ask them to hold yet additional nights, that also enables us to create more space between the games.”
To Silver’s point, while he addressed reporters from a batting cage at the Oakland Coliseum, a banner was draped on the side of Oracle Arena next door advertising an upcoming Green Day concert.
Rest became a hot-button issue this season when both Finals participants, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, sat their stars on consecutive weeks when they were playing in nationally televised games.
At the time, Silver issued a memo to all 30 teams, calling player rest “an extremely significant issue for our league.”
He called for owners to become more involved in the decision-making when rest occurs because of the negative impact those decisions can have on “fans and business partners,” the reputation of the league and “perception of our game” if mishandled.
The owners met in April to discuss the issue in person and determine best practices for the future.
“I think 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. “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 home fans can see that team many times.”
Silver also silenced calls to reduce the amount of games teams play from the traditional 82.
“It’s not 82 games, it’s not the length of the season, it’s the time between the games and that there’s a direct correlation between fatigue and injury on the part of the players,” Silver said.
While the league has added “Did Not Play — Rest” as an official designation on the box score in just the past three years, Silver claimed the NBA has dealt with rest for a long time.
“Resting in itself is not a new issue in this league,” he said. “When you look back at the actual number of games — just taking All-Stars as a sample of players, over 30 years, our All-Stars are playing just about the same number of games this past season than they did 30 years ago.
“So I don’t think we’re asking anything differently of our (paying) fans. And, in fact, look, we have a league of 450 of the best players in the world. I think it’s always been part of this league and it’s part of every sport that players rest occasionally.”
The fact that the Warriors and Cavs both made it to the Finals fully healthy while using strategic regular-season rest made Silver acknowledge its effectiveness.
“We are going into the Finals with a No. 1 seed in the West, No. 2 seed in the East, two teams that obviously had tremendous regular seasons, and every player is healthy,” Silver said. “So I don’t necessarily think the fan benefits by somehow if the league could require a player who wasn’t injured but was banged up to play in a game when the trainers felt that player needed rest. I don’t think the fan benefits by requiring that player to play and then that player getting injured.
“I think what you want to see over the course of a long regular season is a buildup towards teams getting better, teams gelling on the floor, players increasing their skills and then coming together for a great Final.”
Silver joked that he would not like to add any more than the additional week to the schedule because “my desire is not to be giving this press conference in July.”
Silver also addressed the separate rest issue of struggling teams shutting down healthy players toward the end of the regular season to improve their chances at finishing with a worse record and increase their draft lottery odds.
“It drives me crazy,” Silver said. “But it’s been an issue, though, that the league has been dealing with for many decades. Of course, the draft lottery was put in place close to 35 years ago precisely to deal with that issue.”
The Los Angeles Lakers, for example, traded away Lou Williams at the deadline and benched Luol Deng, Nick Young and Timofey Mozgov late in the season in hopes of holding onto their first-round draft pick, which they would have had to trade to Philadelphia if it did not land in the top three.
“There’s no doubt about it, there’s a certain amount of gamesmanship that’s going on with our teams in terms of resting of healthy players at the end of the season,” Silver said. “And we have made proposals to our teams on additional changes to the draft lottery. I think we have changed it five times so far over the 30-plus years it’s been in effect. But it’s not working exactly the way we would like it to, and I think it’s something we have to turn back to.”
The changes will be in reason, of course.
“We’re not at the point where we’re going to have relegation to the Gatorade (Development) League and the way they do in Europe (with soccer),” Silver said. “That would stop it, but we’re not prepared to do that. But I think there’s more we can do to disincentivize teams from that behavior.”
Silver also addressed several other issues facing the league.
• He defended the league’s decision to hold the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, after initially pulling it when it was scheduled for February 2017, because of the controversial “bathroom bill” in the state. Silver said the bill was changed enough to his liking and that he believes the NBA can be an agent of change for the state to follow when the league brings its annual showcase event to the Hornets’ arena.
“These are close calls for the league, but I think ultimately it’s that expression that sport imitates life,” Silver said. “I think sometimes life can imitate sport. And I think that we can be in a position where we go in and say, this is what it looks like to operate under a set of egalitarian principles, and this is what it looks like to be nondiscriminatory, in this case against the LGBTQ community. And my hope is by setting that example, we can unify people and that the state will follow.”
• The commissioner said the NBA’s minimum age requirement of 19, which has created the so-called “one-and-done” phenomenon in college basketball, continues to be something both the league and players’ union intend to address.
“My sense is it’s not working for anyone,” Silver said. “It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”
• The league currently has no plans for expanding beyond its 30 teams.
“From my standpoint, for the league, you want ultimately a league where 30 teams are in a position where they can ultimately compete for championships and also be economically viable,” Silver said. “From an economic standpoint, we are doing better than we did historically, but we’re still not at a point where we have 30 teams that are profitable. … I also have to look at the potential for dilution of the existing talent we have before we expand. I have no doubt at some point we’ll turn back to it, but at least in my last discussions with our owners on this, most of them said let’s keep focusing on the health of these 30 teams and the quality of the competition. When we feel we’re in a better place with the 30 teams we have, maybe at that point we can look to expand.”
• Despite the dominance of the Warriors (12-0) and Cavs (12-1) in the postseason heading into Game 1, Silver does not believe the league needs to intervene when it comes to promoting parity.
“From a league standpoint, you always want to see great competition,” Silver said. “It’s what our fans want to see, it’s what we provide in this league. But having said that, this is real life. It’s not scripted, and it happens. So, sure, the fan in me would love to see more competition at times, but on the other hand, I’ve said it before, I think we should also celebrate excellence.”