On March 18, 2017, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were at the time the number one seed in the NBA Eastern Conference, suited up to play the Los Angeles Clippers, a major contender in the Western Conference. It was an important game with large playoff implications, large enough to get boasted on ABC’s “NBA Saturday Primetime”, which only receives one game a week. TV sponsors pay a lot of money for rights to that game, and advertisers pay to have their commercials shown during a game like this one. Many fans of the Clippers and the Cavaliers came down to the Staples Center to watch some of the best players in the league, and in the case of Lebron James, of all time. There’s only one issue, Lebron James didn’t play that game, neither did Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love, the team’s so called “Big Three”.
Lebron James watches from the bench as he sits out for the game. Via USA Today
None of these players were injured, but they sat out the game, against a tough opponent, for no reason other than rest. Resting players has become a significant issue for the NBA. It is believed that teams rest their players in order to keep them more well rested for the playoffs. In fact, many sports scientists have backed up the claim that resting players is in fact beneficial to players. Especially when playing back to back games. But that does not change the poor results that come due to resting players. The NBA, more than any other league, is star driven, a team doesn’t have to be good as long as they a star or two to carry them. So, when fans go to see their team play one of these teams, if these players were to sit out the game, the fans would come home disappointed. Especially when playing a team like the Cavaliers, ticket prices are higher because you are going to pay more money to see a star like Lebron James, so when he doesn't play, fans will not be satisfied. The worst thing that the NBA can get from a business standpoint, is unhappy fans. If fans stop buying tickets to the games, the teams make less money.
Advertisement for Cavaliers vs. Clippers on "NBA Saturday Primetime" on ABC. Via @ESPNPR on Twitter
But perhaps even worse than that, are the TV sponsors. Networks like ABC, TNT, ESPN, etc. will pay loads of cash to be able to broadcast a game on their network, but when a team rests their star players, viewership goes down and commercial sponsors will pay less. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently said in a public statement that resting players is a “Significant Issue”. He also said that he would consider issuing a fine to teams that rest players. In fact, former commissioner David Stern did in fact fine the San Antonio Spurs, and head coach Gregg Popovich for resting their stars against the Miami Heat. In a public statement Stern said, “... The team also [rested players] without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
Many blame the need for rest on the long NBA schedule, where teams often have to play back to back games, both on the road. The NBA has taken steps to fix this by extending the season length, but keeping the same amount of games and getting rid of 2 preseason games. But results have been different than what sports scientists would have thought. Since that game against the Clippers, the Cavaliers have lost four of their last seven games and lost the spot of first place in the Eastern Conference. In fact ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne stated that the Cavs are “Slower than ever”.
Tristan Thompson is visibly upset, as the Cavaliers lost to the Warriors 126-91. Via The Cheat Sheet.
Additionally since the All-Star break, the biggest break in the season, and largest rest for players, the Cavs have had the second worst defensive efficiency in the entire NBA. Even though resting players could be helpful for the players, it is definitely bad for the TV sponsors, the team, and most importantly, the fans.