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DeMarcus Cousins is currently on a paid vacation of sorts. He and his Sacramento Kings have already played an exhibition game in Shanghai, and on Wednesday they’ll walk through another exhibition contest in Beijing. DeMarcus appears to be enjoying himself on the trip:
Earlier this summer, DeMarcus also got to go to Spain as part of Team USA’s entry into the FIBA World Cup, a sponsorship event forged by the NBA and a prominent shoe company. DeMarcus played very well and also enjoyed himself while there:
Following the Kings’ return stateside, the group will play two more exhibition contests in a seven-game “preseason” run. They will then embark on an 82-game regular season that would hopefully lead to the team’s first playoff appearance in what would be nine calendar years. The squad will play 41 road games and stay in five-star hotels after traveling on charter flights. Though meals will be provided before games, Cousins and his teammates will receive extensive per diems, something Cousins recently noted on his Instagram account. DeMarcus will make more than $14.7 million this season in a contract that will pay him over $65.6 million spread out over five years.
This is also way too much travel and too many games. And though Cousins isn’t exactly complaining about the workload, he is completely correct in documenting his fatigue on record. In a conversation with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper:
“I feel like I’m about 45 years old,” he said.
This was on Tuesday night, after the exhibition victory over the Raptors at Sleep Train Arena. The next day around noon, Cousins would board the chartered 747 as part of the Kings' entourage bound for China for games against the Nets in Shanghai on Saturday and Beijing on Wednesday and a busy schedule in between to promote the NBA in a very important market. And then 11 ½ hours back across the Pacific … to close preseason with three games in three states.
Seven exhibition games in all in six cities — Vancouver, Sacramento, Shanghai, Beijing, Sacramento, San Antonio and Las Vegas — and three countries would be enough of an exhibition trek for anyone. Except that Cousins also had the full USA Basketball treatment, late-July until mid-September, mini-camp and public intra-squad scrimmage in Las Vegas to practices in Chicago before a minor knee injury kept him out of the exhibition there against Brazil, to New York for two more contests, and then Spain for a final warm-up and finally the nine games that resulted in a gold medal.
“I have adjusted,” Cousins said. “I’m still going through the normal practices, but I may not go every time. I may sit out a couple times. Or when we’re playing five-on-five I may not play the whole time. I’m choosing my spots when I can get a little rest. The main thing is taking care of my body after the practices.
We’re not in the 1950s or even the early aughts. You don’t need to visit Sioux Falls or Shanghai to create meaningful amounts of new NBA fans. The odd international scheduling is just fine, as would be a token game or two at the home arena or at a regional site, but the NBA is going about this in an anachronistic way.
I’m not writing a column pitched in attempts to complain about the poor, pitiful, pampered pro athlete. I’m writing this column to complain for the Kentucky Wildcats fan that will drive up from Kentucky and into Indiana on Jan. 31 to watch Cousins and his Kings play against the Pacers. Cousins will have played the night before against the Eastern Conference favorites from Cleveland, and this will be his fourth road game in six nights, including trips to New York City and a border crossing into Canada.
Dude’s gonna be tired. That fan, likely taking in his or her lone NBA game of the season, will probably not see Cousins at his best, and for understandable reasons. That Kings-Pacers contest will only be around the NBA’s midpoint of the season, but it will be pitched five months after Cousins started training camp with Team USA. The Kings will have 35 games and 2 1/2 months to go after that.
Now, Team USA projects don’t happen every summer, and Cousins’ participation was voluntary. Not every team has to play exhibition games overseas, and the NBA does just about everything it can to make sure the trips and treatment throughout the year of someone like DeMarcus are of the highest order.
The league will also be sending its teams around the globe for more than 75,000 miles worth of travel during the exhibition season, one that starts weeks before the date that coaches would prefer, while taking away from valuable training camp time. Those training camps will hardly be augmented by in-season practices, as travel demands during the regular season limit the amount of paces a team can go through. Even the most demanding of NBA coaches smartly limit the number of practices through the year, mindful of the fact that they have to fly out to Minnesota on Thursday.
There is absolutely no data that suggests that NBA players are more prone to injury or even fatigue-related injury in April more than they are in November. For the league’s best teams – and best, if we can be cold about it, “products” – the expanded playoff schedule allows for more rest as the postseason moves along, in order to hopefully showcase the league’s best players working at their peak with the eyes of many nations upon them.
That doesn’t mean that, on many nights throughout the year, fans aren’t going to get shafted on their League Pass choices, their cable package cost, or especially payoff in relation to their ticket price. Killing the league’s international exhibition schedule isn’t something fans should be completely in favor of (especially as the NBA hasn’t hit Australia with games yet, which is an absolute hoop crime), but the NBA has to be on its toes about this. The league is killing practice time and wearying its players in order to promote its product with international games that are rarely worth watching for those of us who are lucky to live near an NBA team.
Attendance for these exhibition games in China has shot up six times over the last decade, and I’m sure plenty were thrilled to see Cousins put up nine points in nearly 14 minutes of meaningless action. Whether games like these are the reason NBA revenue – revenue that the players, even after a badly negotiated deal with the owners, will take in a majority of – is up for conjecture. It’s true these games help – but in an accessible, Internet-heady age, to what extent do they help? Are we pushing these players to a point where fans, wherever they may be sitting, might be getting the raw end of this deal because of all this exposure?
There are no clear answers yet outside of extending the NBA calendar, as we’ve begged before. The league just has to be careful as it balances its entertainment options.
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