NBA memo about resting players shows issue won't be going away anytime soon

With the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers – the teams that faced off in the past two NBA Finals, and are the favorites to meet there a third time this June – opting to sit all of their star players each of the past two Saturday nights on national television, the topic of resting players has been a hot topic in the basketball world recently.

The NBA’s league office has noticed.

In a memo sent to all 30 NBA teams Monday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the issue of resting players has “become an extremely significant issue for our league,” and said there will be a “full discussion” of the practice at the April 6 Board of Governors meeting in New York.

ESPN first reported the memo, which was later obtained by The Washington Post.

What’s clear is that, with the spotlight being shined on the league for the decisions of Warriors Coach Steve Kerr and Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue to sit their stars on back-to-back weekends, the NBA isn’t happy that the talk surrounding some of the marquee games on its schedule is not about the play on the court, but instead about healthy players sitting in street clothes on the sideline and watching their teammates.

To that end, Silver implored the league’s owners get involved in the decision-making process for their teams moving forward, stating that teams deciding to sit players can have a bigger impact than on the team deciding to do so.

“Decisions of this kind do not merely implicate issues of player health and team performance on the court,” Silver said in the memo. “They also can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation, and damage the perception of our game.  With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for Governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.”

While the NBA is obviously frustrated by the situation, the league could find itself going down a slippery slope if it begins to tell teams when they can or cannot sit players. The Warriors sat Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back set after playing eight games in eight cities in 13 days – a stretch in which they had lost Kevin Durant for several weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise.

Cleveland, meanwhile, sat out Kevin Love as part of recovery from a recent knee surgery and Kyrie Irving because of knee tightness against the Clippers, and with both of them sitting decided it was a good night to give James a night off – especially since Cleveland was set to play in Los Angeles again the next night against the Lakers.

The common thread in both of those situations – and in the vast majority of the times during the season when teams sit players – was that it came as part of back-to-back games on the schedule. To that end, the NBA has gone to great lengths to try to reduce the number of back-to-backs and four game in five night stretches during the season – something it’s already been successful in doing. In an effort to further improve the schedule, the preseason will be a week shorter next season in order to allow for more time to play the games and, in theory, cut down on situations where players could potentially be held out of games.

One thing the league clearly was upset about, however, was Cleveland not announcing James, Love and Irving were going to sit until during pregame access before Saturday’s game in Los Angeles. Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin said he got a call from the league to explain his decision, and in the memo Silver made it clear that teams that fail to provide proper notice of stars sitting out will be disciplined.

“Please also be reminded that, under current league rules, teams are required to provide notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest,” he said. “Failure to abide by these rules will result in significant penalties.”

Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, fined the Spurs $250,000 in 2012 for doing “a disservice to the league and its fans” after Coach Gregg Popovich decided to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home instead of playing the final game of a six-game road trip in Miami during the early part of that season, and failing to notify anyone until just before the game.

At the time, Kerr – then working for TNT as an analyst – went to Twitter to give his take on the matter.

“If the NBA punishes the Spurs for sitting players, it opens up a huge can of worms,” Kerr said. “This is a serious legal challenge for the league.”

The can isn’t opened quite yet. But after Kerr and Lue made the last two Saturdays into conversations about rest, the topic isn’t going away anytime soon. And, as Silver’s memo shows, it’s a topic the league won’t be shy about getting involved with, either.

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