The topic of “rest” in the NBA is becoming a growing issue.
Gregg Popovich started scheduling rest games for his elder statesmen Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili quite some time ago.
Of course, San Antonio is a perennial playoff team that hasn’t missed the postseason since the 1996-97 season. It just so happens Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997 and the rest is history.
Popovich chose games and stuck to his plan regardless of the situation on the team (i.e. injuries that occurred, etc). Other teams have adopted “rest” days for key players because of the landscape of the NBA schedule that includes an absurd number of back-to-backs and scenarios with four games in five nights.
I feel for the fans. It’s aggravating to pay top dollar to see super star caliber players then find out they’ll be on the sidelines in street clothes. And this league is all about the fans.
But the fans are not the only ones affected by this. I want also want to give a little perspective from the other side of the coin.
Let’s take the Sacramento Kings’ road game against the Houston Rockets for example. Not only were starting shooting guard Ben McLemore and small forward Rudy Gay scratched due to injuries, but DeMarcus Cousins was also out for the game for “rest.”
Head Coach Dave Joerger told the media he had planned on using the Houston game as a rest day for his starting center, whom he’s asked to carry a lot of the load through the first quarter of the season, about a week prior. At the time, he had no way of knowing both Gay and McLemore would be out with injuries.
Joerger admitted these decisions are difficult for him to make because he never wants to give his team the impression that one game is less important than any other game.
However, for a guy like Cousins, who spent the offseason trying to rehab lingering foot ailments that have plagued him the last couple seasons while also playing for Team USA in the 2016 Rio Olympics, planned rest may make more sense that people are willing to admit. So Joerger stuck with his original plan.
The Kings were sitting in the 9th spot in the West, just three games back of the final playoff spot, going into that matchup against the Rockets. And for those of you asking why I’m talking about the playoffs in December, it’s because of the chaos that was my twitter timeline on Wednesday when it was announced Cousins would not suit up in Houston. I don’t put much thought into the playoff picture in December but others do.
Here’s a little insight into the “load” that Coach Joerger was referring to when it comes to the reasoning behind his decision to rest Cousins:
Of the 24 games Cousins has played this season for the Kings, he’s led the team in scoring twenty times and rebounding sixteen times. On top of that, keep in mind, Cousins is the furthest thing from a finesse player there is in the NBA. His game is about brute force, physicality and old school grind-it-out low post play.
It’s easy to make the argument that planned rest could be beneficial in the long run for various reasons, preventing injuries being one of them, as well as dealing with a schedule that can be particularly grueling for stretches.
The Kings came into the season with 18 back-to-backs on their schedule – tied for second most with the Los angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks. However, that Nov. 30 game in Philadelphia, postponed due to weather conditions making the court unplayable, was moved to Jan. 30 adding another back-to-back to the Kings schedule. That ties them with the Hawks for most in the league at 19.
For what it’s worth, it also turns into the Kings’ longest road trip of the season. The original seven games turned into an eight-game trip that includes three back-to-backs in thirteen days.
Yes, three back-to-backs which is completely ridiculous but also unavoidable. You play the schedule in front of you.
I don’t want to get into the debate of rest and the sleep science and research that exists to back this new practice.
Instead, I’ll conclude with these two things:
The NBA has already been focusing on making the schedule less grueling with fewer back-to-backs and four games in five nights scenarios. The newly agreed upon Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and the players’ association has gone further by not only limiting the preseason schedule to six-games but also starting the regular season earlier.
This is intended to address those back-to-back/four games in five nights situations but the hope is it will also limit teams’ decisions to “rest” players during the regular season.
Time will only tell, but I want to also point out something that hasn’t really been addressed during the incessant “rest” debate.
As a former player, I’ve been through a drubbing or two similar to what the Kings received at the hands of the Rockets when they lost 132-98. It is demoralizing. It’s embarrassing. It’s horrendous.
Teams deal with injuries all the time. As I pointed out earlier, Gay and McLemore were out with injuries in addition to Cousins who was resting. You can’t control injuries, but you can control when healthy players play.
I get it. Cousins’ rest was decided upon with the long-term benefits in mind. But just for a moment, think of the misery the players on the court were put through as well. Similar to Cleveland’s guys who laced them up when LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were all held out against the Memphis Grizzlies. They too lost that game falling 93-85 to a Grizzlies team that was also resting Marc Gasol.
Fans hate resting. The league office hates resting. But I’ll speak for the players in those locker rooms who won’t dare break rank and speak out against this practice. Players hate resting too. Even the ones who are told they will not suit up. Players want to play. Franchises want to win.
So until the league office takes steps to legislate this practice out of the game, much like the hack-a-Shaq debacle, teams and coaches are going to do whatever they can to keep their players healthy and game plan for an 82-game season. And for now, that means we will see plenty more “rest” games on inactive reports.