There is typically a lot of criticism leveled at the modern NBA for tendencies during the season that don’t typically make a lot of sense to fans, analysts, and others that do not actually play the game. One of the biggest criticisms is the idea of resting or “shutting down” players.
NBD, just LeBron James sippin’ some coffee on his day off
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) March 19, 2017
The issue has been a topic of discussion for a long time; however, it has recently been at the forefront of debates lately with a couple of big national TV games that did not feature star players. Saturday night’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers game at Staples Center had fans clamoring for a change. Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue opted to rest his “big three” of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, predictably leading to a disappointing national primetime NBA game in which the Clippers routed the Cavaliers 108 to 78 and swept the season series.
Fans spent $400 a ticket to see LeBron and instead get Richard Jefferson battling Paul Pierce in the post. In 2017.
— Bill Oram (@billoram) March 19, 2017
Perhaps this would not be quite as bad, had a nearly identical situation not occurred only a week before on March 11 when the San Antonio Spurs hosted the Golden State Warriors in the two teams’ second meeting of the season. Warriors coach Steve Kerr chose to rest his star players Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, as well as Andre Iguodala (Kevin Durant has been out since the end of February with a leg injury). Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs were already without stars Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker due to injury, and LaMarcus Aldridge due to suddenly being diagnosed with a minor heart arrhythmia that he has since recovered from.
Having no “stars” playing was not a problem for the Spurs, as they cruised to a 107-85 blowout win over the Warriors. Regardless of both of these games having a winner, it still feels like a lot of fans have lost, so to speak.
Kerr on resting Curry, Klay, Dray, & Iguodala tomorrow night against Spurs. pic.twitter.com/rktbntdwqD
— CSN Warriors News (@CSNWarriors) March 11, 2017
There is something to be said for playoff-bound and contending teams resting players down the stretch to make sure that they are as healthy as possible for a deep playoff run. Teams want to be sure that they are at their best, and that is perfectly fair. Many fans often underestimate just how much it can help to take a game off, especially during a long stretch with back-to-backs and tough scheduling.
The problem is that resting players is viewed as bad for the brand, especially when it comes in the big aforementioned national television games. When fans tune in for a game like the Cavaliers against the Clippers, they are expecting to see stars like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James facing off against the likes of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Fans who have bought tickets to these big games also rightfully feel like they have been cheated out of the prices of their tickets.
It creates an unfair “bait-and-switch” scenario. Ticket prices to see players like Stephen Curry and LeBron James are obviously going to be higher due to the star power of the teams involved. However, they arrive at the arena only to be disappointed seeing the stars that they were excited to watch sitting on the bench observing.
Though it can mostly be defended when it comes to teams that are expected to be in the playoffs and contend for a title, other teams suffer from a different controversial decision: the idea of “shutting down” healthy players for the season. So far this season, two teams that are already decidedly out of playoff contention have shut down players for the season: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers announced that they have shut down Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng for the rest of the season to focus on developing their younger players. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns have shut down Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler, and Brandon Knight (the last allegedly as a mutual agreement between Knight and the Suns) for the remainder of the season, as well, also choosing to focus on younger players.
The Lakers have decided to shut down Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng for the remainder of the season to focus on developing their young talent. pic.twitter.com/lVVgLjxn2N
— DTS Hoops (@dtshoops) March 15, 2017
The Lakers have a promising young core that certainly has room to develop, and with more development and playing time, they are sure to eventually only be better for it. However, Mozgov and Deng are the two highest-paid players on the team, and shutting them down means that the Lakers have a combined $136 million in salary sitting out and being wasted for the remainder of the season.
The Suns, meanwhile, seem fairly direction-less, and shutting down their players looks much more questionable, especially given that guard Devin Booker is already out due to injury (and is also expected to possibly be shut down for the season, as well). In a 112-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, the Suns were playing with only an 8-man rotation consisting of a starting lineup of rookie guards Tyler Ullis and Derrick Jones Jr. in the backcourt alongside T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, and Alex Len. The only three active reserves were veteran forward Jared Dudley, center Alan Williams, and forward Jarell Eddie, who was signed on a 10-day contract from the Windy City Bulls of the D-League earlier on Sunday morning. Guard Ronnie Price also missed the game with a left lower leg contusion, and guard Leandro Barbosa was out due to illness.
Despite these two teams being in the basement of the NBA, it still has a similar effect to the higher-tier teams resting their star players. The games can generally feel less competitive and can be less exciting to watch when teams are not playing to their full abilities.
The NBA where teams purposely rest healthy players or shut down stars on bad teams in March but still charge fans top dollar…..unreal
— Percy Mack (@KingTeeJay) March 16, 2017
The NBA needs to figure out a way to address this issue. It has been suggested that preseason could be shortened, or the regular season itself could be extend a bit to help decrease the frequency of back-to-backs and “four games in five nights” or “five games in seven nights” schedules. This could help with managing injuries and giving players more rest that is already built into the schedule. As of right now, however, no set plan seems to be in place to address this issue.
While NBA players and teams can certainly benefit from resting and shutting down healthy players, it does contribute to a negative perception of the league in general. Games can become less competitive, and fans can feel cheated out of ticket prices, especially for inter-conference matchups where stars like LeBron James may only come into two once a season. However, until something can be done by the NBA to address this issue, it is just something that fans will unfortunately have to live with for now.