Last week the NBA’s board of governors approved a new set of policies and punishments for teams that rest healthy players.
These new rules are more strict when it comes to resting star players and allow the league to levy larger fines on teams that violate the rules, but the rules fall short of addressing the root problem — the NBA season is too long.
The new policies, which aim to increase player participation in games and public perception of the league, include five key rules that must be followed by teams when resting non-injured star players (defined as any player who has been on an All-Star or All-NBA team in any of the previous three seasons, or is made an All-Star in the current season).
The five rules that teams must comply with are as follows:
No more than one star player is unavailable for the same game.
Star players must be available for national TV and in-season tournament games.
Teams must refrain from any longterm shutdown — or near shutdown (when a star player stops participating in games or plays in a materially reduced role in circumstances affecting the integrity of the game).
Teams must maintain a balance between the number of one-game absences for a star player in home games and road games, with a preference for those absences to happen in home games.
Teams must ensure that healthy players resting for a game are present and visible to fans.
In an attempt to gain compliance, the league will fine a team $100,000 for first offenses, $250,000 for second offenses and $1 million more than the previous penalty for each additional fine, according to multiple reports.
There are of course exceptions to the rules. These include for players who 35 or older or who have logged more than 34,000 regular-season minutes.
And team physicians who are in charge of declaring whether players are injured will play a huge part in determining whether someone is listed as resting or whether they miss a game because of injury.
But, the league is going to be investigating teams that have star players who miss multiple games for things like “knee soreness,” especially if it comes at the tail end of the season or falls on a night when a game is nationally televised.
These new policies and the hefty fines that come with noncompliance could mean that fans see star players in more games and that they don’t leave arenas disappointed. They could lead to people taking the regular season more seriously.
But it all feels like a Band-Aid rather than a real solution.
Inevitably teams will find ways to get around the rules and players will rest, especially at the end of the season and especially if a team is not in playoff contention or otherwise wants to change its position in the standings.
That’s not going away.
The real problem here — the problem that forces teams to rest players on one side of back-to-back sets, the problem when teams try to find advantageous nights when they can rest their most important players in order to preserve their bodies for the postseason — is that the NBA season is too long.
It’s long been clear to most people that the 82-game regular season lends itself to complacency and allows a lot of room for teams to game the system.
If the NBA were to shorten the season by just a few games, the league would be able to eliminate back-to-back games completely.
Fewer games would place a higher importance on the remaining number of games, and any research being done in sports science would favor the reduced workload on athletes’ bodies.
But, the bottom line would suffer, and that’s what this is all about.
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association had an opportunity to discuss shortening the season in recent CBA negotiations, but there was barely any interest or movement on the subject because the NBA would lose revenue which would impact the salary cap.
Money, money, money.
So, we’ll continue to see changes in rules and updated policies and teams finding ways to work around those policies until both sides decide that they actually want to address the 82-game-sized elephant in the room.