The NBA was peeved this week, according to Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, after the team decided to rest LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for a nationally televised game against the Clippers, a game the Cavaliers lost 108-78. A day later, the Big 3 went off for 101 combined points in a win against the Lakers, showing exactly what the team missed the day before in the rout to the Clippers.
“Yeah, they were not happy,” Griffin said.
If the NBA wants its stars to play in its biggest televised games, they need to give the teams a reason to play those top stars. Right now there isn’t one, so we get the following situation time and time again: Fans tune in to see a big game between two great teams, fans are rightfully disappointed they don’t get to see that, NBA impotently chastises the teams for resting stars, teams acknowledge the bad situation and don’t do anything about it.
Around and around we go.
The fans aren’t happy. The broadcasters, who called it a "joke," weren't happy. The league isn’t happy. The teams, one would imagine, aren’t super happy about it, because they’re not doing the best to represent their organization on a national stage. (They have concerns that outweigh this, of course, but I can’t imagine having to rest LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin Love in a game would make the Cavaliers “happy.”)
So why are we doing this?
Here’s the truth of the matter: There are too many games in an NBA season. Eighty-two is an unreal amount of contests, a number that is so large it makes it just about impossible to put out your best product every night for a season. Even for fans watching, it’s untenable.
Think about how many NFL fans watch every game of their favorite team in a season. It’s not a small number. NBA fans? That’s insane. How much of a diehard do you have to be to watch every minute of all 82 games in a season?
NBA players and coaches don’t like the number of games. There’s less time for practice, so it’s harder to develop young players. Travel is a pain. (If you ever want to see a team look like a ghost of itself, just make sure to tune in for the second game of a road back-to-back.)
When making the argument for an 82-game season, it comes down to the owners.
Of course the owners like the length of the season. More games mean more things to sell. It’s more nights when the arena is open, more nights when people pay for parking, tickets, concessions, jerseys. There are more nights of television that can be packaged together and sold.
But at what point is the length of the season diluting the very product you’re trying to sell? It’s sacrificing the long-term for the short. The NFL became the biggest league in the country in good part because of its scarcity, because every game mattered, because everyone had to tune in every Sunday.
The NBA matters all season to the diehards. For most fans, they check in at Christmas, look for when the Warriors and Cavaliers come to town, check out a few primetime games, then gear up big for the playoffs. The NBA knows this, which is why the league was so upset at the Cavaliers for sitting three stars in a nationally televised game.
And what can the NBA do? Force teams to play their best players in nationally televised games? Would they then not be supporting the idea that some regular-season games are more important than others? Should teams only rest players for mid-week games against Detroit?
It’s time the NBA has to address this, because the big-market teams are starting to figure it out. For years, the Spurs have been doing this, but they were doing it in San Antonio, and it was Pop, and the Spurs won most of the time even with their bench guys in anyway, so the league didn’t put up too much of a fuss about it.
Now it’s LeBron, Kyrie and Love on a primetime night. The week before it was the Warriors resting all their stars. Now it’s an issue.
As Griffin said about the whole thing: “[The Cavs are] paying me to win a championship. I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”
Even if he did, it's not on him. He and the team can do what they want. If the league wants to fix this problem, only they have the power to do it: By cutting the number of games.