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The NBA has a rest problem.
For Saturday's ABC prime-time matchup between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs -- the top two teams in the Western Conference separated by 11/2 games -- Warriors coach Steve Kerr rested Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
The league's TV partners are paying the NBA $2.6 billion a season to broadcast games, and Disney can't be thrilled about Saturday's development. The same can be said for fans who invested in tickets for the matchup.
"I'm sympathetic to fans who turn out -- whether they buy tickets to games or watching games on television -- and don't see their favorite player on the floor," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said previously.
Yet as Silver has pointed out numerous times, "We also have to be realistic that the science has gotten to the point where there is that direct correlation that we're aware of between fatigue and injuries. And as tough as it is on our fans to miss one of their favorite players for a game, it's far better than having them get injured and be out for long periods of time. So we're always still looking to strike that right balance."
The league hasn't struck that right balance yet. That was made clear during the game broadcast Saturday by former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy.
"Once again, the fans are told, you don't matter," Van Gundy said. "Pay us up front, we'll take your money, and then we'll give you whatever product we want to."
San Antonio won 107-85 to clinch the season series and tiebreaker for seed purposes should they end up with the same records.
The Warriors will not be fined by the NBA for resting three All-Stars plus Iguodala, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The person requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. Silver's predecessor, David Stern, did fine the Spurs in 2012 for sitting key players in a game against the Miami Heat. The one significant difference was that the Warriors were transparent about their plans to rest their stars whereas the Spurs made a late announcement and sent their players home without informing the league. It was a $250,000 penalty for the organization.
Though sympathetic to fans and TV partners, Silver also has said he doesn't want to micromanage how teams manage their rosters.
"I would say my personal view is I would rather not engage in discussions with coaches and GMs on playing time," Silver said previously. "I think that's a core responsibility of the team, and I think it's a very slippery slope for the league office to start getting in the business of telling a coach or team what minutes a player should play."
It doesn't help that the Warriors are at the end of a brutal road trip since the All-Star break: seven of their last eight games were on the road, including a back-to-back Friday at Minnesota and Saturday at San Antonio.
You can understand Kerr's view, too. He's trying to win a championship, and Kevin Durant won't be back until later this season because of a knee injury suffered two weeks ago. According to a Utah School of Medicine study cited in an ESPN story last month, back-to-back road games generate 31/2 times more in-game injuries. No wonder Kerr is cautious.
The NBA has made strides over the last two seasons to reduce back-to-backs and four-games-in-five-days scenarios. By starting the regular season a week earlier in 2017-18, the NBA expects to eliminate even more of those situations.
"One of the ways that we can work to minimize the resting is to add a number of days to the schedule, which will add additional rest," Silver said.
Creating an 82-game schedule for 30 teams in 29 arenas is not easy, but the league says it is committed to improvements. In case one thinks a reduction in regular-season games is the answer, it's not -- unless players and owners are willing to accept less revenue and smaller paychecks.
If Saturday's game held that much importance to the league and its TV partner, it would've made sure both teams had Friday off. For these marquee matchups, closer attention must be paid to the schedule.
If Kerr had decided to rest players even then, Silver would have the option of fining the Warriors. But even given a choice between a fine and playing key players, a team still might choose the fine, which won't alleviate the issue.
The rest issue isn't going away. There will still be instances in which a star player, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, doesn't play in his one road trip that season against a Western Conference team. But the league needs to find more ways to mitigate those instances.
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