By FRANK CALO
In any sport, whether it be football, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc. the goal is to win a championship. Teams do whatever they can to make sure they have the best chance of winning. In the NBA, there has been a hot topic of debate on whether or not teams should rest their star players even if they aren’t injured so they stay fresh and healthy for the upcoming NBA playoffs. While most people see this as cheating the fans and the game of basketball, in reality it strengthens the sport and is a good thing in the long run for the NBA.
The idea of rest really only became a problem when Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James, the best player in the league, started to rest games and even rested on some national televised games. He even made this point in an interview after one of the games. He’s right because this idea of rest started a couple years ago when the San Antonio Spurs and head coach Gregg Popovich began resting his older star players, forward Tim Duncan, point guard Tony Parker, and guard Manu Ginobli. Then the Spurs started resting their players periodically during the regular season. Which led them to two straight NBA finals after not making it for five years and won one of those. While some were against the idea of rest, most saw Popovich and the Spurs as geniuses. They were extending the careers of Duncan and others, while also competing at the highest level in the playoffs. Then all the analysts and NBA experts were saying the Spurs were too old and that they couldn’t possibly keep winning, they proved them wrong. Resting those players was a big reason why because they understood that it’s the playoffs that matter most.
So what changed? Why did all those people that saw Popovich doing the right thing for his team in the long run all of sudden flip the switch and most are now against it? Like I mentioned before, it’s because Lebron James started doing it. James is arguably the most scrutinized and watched player in any sport in the world. Everything he does is under a microscope and people have an opinion on what he does. So when the Cleveland Cavaliers started resting Lebron, point guard Kyrie Irving, and forward Kevin Love, they were seen as not doing right by the game.
People started complaining that they were letting down the fans that paid quite a bit of money to see them play. It’s a valid point, but in the long run with them resting, their careers are extended. Fans will have extra opportunities to see them play as they will be able to play for more years. You might ask does the handful of games that players miss because of rest really extend their careers? and the answer is yes. The NBA is a grueling 82 game season, where teams can play three games in four nights or four games in five nights. That takes a toll on a player’s body to play all 82 games.
It’s also proven to extend careers. Look at Tim Duncan who retired at age 40. If he had to play all 82 games, he would have retired a couple years ago. It goes the same for Manu Ginobli who is 39 and still playing. Because of the rest, they were and are able to play longer and at a high level.
People might say that it’s ok for them because they started resting when they were older players and that Lebron is only in his younger 30’s, and he’s not old like the other players. True, he is relatively young in terms of age, but in terms of games played, he’s got some mileage on him. Lebron, in his 14-year career so far, has played 1,257 games and 49,492 minutes. To compare that, Michael Jordan in his whole 15 year career played in 1,251 games and 48,485 minutes. Lebron has already played more than Jordan and that doesn’t even count the Olympic basketball Lebron has played over the summers. If you look at Duncan in his 19-year career he played in 1392 games. Lebron will probably pass him up in three or four fewer years. So, while Lebron is “young” in reality he has played more than anybody since he began in 2003 and has the most games and minutes played than anybody ever at his age.
I want to see James and other star players be at their best when it comes to the most important time: the playoffs. If that means the Warriors sitting Steph Curry or Kevin Durant, the Rockets sitting James Harden, or the Wizards sitting John Wall, so be it. I want to see every team have their best players at their best in the playoffs. A random game against the Brooklyn Nets on a Tuesday night doesn’t matter compared to game seven in the NBA playoffs. These players missing a game here or there in the short term might seem like a problem, but looking at the bigger picture it’s a good thing.
Teams could do a better job of picking which games they sit players and avoid doing it on national television. They know the schedule way in advance of the season, so maybe to fix that problem, teams could decide ahead of time when they will sit players and submit it to the league, so the NBA knows in advance when the star players will sit. n general, the problem of sitting is not a problem, it’s a good thing for the NBA. This way, we get the teams at full strength when it really matters and everything is on the table for the playoffs.