LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki and others weigh in on shortened schedules and games

LeBron James laces up for another run. (Getty Images)

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LeBron James laces up for another run. (Getty Images)

By now you’re probably sick about us bashing away at the idea that NBA players are being pushed to their physical limits due to the wallop that an 82-game season packs. Even if these guys do augment that by playing two months’ worth of playoff games before dashing off for some shoe company-sponsored international competition during the summer, these are still millionaires that play a child’s game, and their travel includes lofty per diems, chartered flights, five-star hotels and few practices between games.

Again, we’re not out to save any millionaire’s knees. We’re out to save the NBA product, and the fan experience. Whether LeBron James’ cramps in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals was more a product of San Antonio’s faulty air conditioning unit or his repeated trips to June topped by Team USA “obligations” isn’t the point. What matters is that we didn’t get to see LeBron in Game 1. We won’t get to see Kevin Durant for the next two months (at best). Or any other random star, sub-star, or team at their best in any number of wearying NBA games this year. Games that – whether you’re paying for a ticket, paying for League Pass, or paying exorbitant cable fees because of ESPN – you’re literally invested in.

The issue is that we really kind of loved watching the Heat and Pacers play four regular-season games against each other last year, and we really dug watching the Knicks and Brooklyn do the same a year prior. Four games apiece between the Texas triptych helps make up for the hell they put the rest of the league through, and Kobe vs. D-Wade is something that needs to happen twice per year no matter what shape they or their teams are in. Asking in-conference teams to play each other four times and non-conference teams to each have a road date in their respective arenas is ideal for fans.

Take it from someone who has to slog through these games nightly, and then revisit them on his computer daily, from October until June. The 82-game schedule has to stick, as does the 48 minutes per night run.

More important people have chimed in on the subject, as you’d expect. From Marc J. Spears at Yahoo Sports:

"It's not the minutes, it's the games," [LeBron] James said. "The minutes don't mean anything. We can play a 50-minute game if we have to. It's just the games. We all as players think it's too many games in our season.

"Eighty-two games are a lot. But it's not the minutes. Taking away minutes from the game isn't going to shorten it at all. Once you go out and play on the floor, it doesn't matter if you're playing 22 minutes … or you play 40 minutes. Once you play, it takes a toll on your body."

[…]

"We all know that without seeing the books that less games means less selling of tickets and prices and all of that," James said. "But at the end of the day, we want to protect the prize, and the prize is the players. We have to continue to promote the game and [when] guys are injured because there are so many games, we can't promote it at a high level."

This is a man who, again, cramped up on a national stage when his team needed him the most after:

2006-07: Playing until June.

2007-08: Playing until late May.

2008-09: Playing until late May.

2009-10: Playing until May.

2010-2014: Playing until June.

Also, the summers in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2012? LeBron James played for Team USA.

Dirk Nowitzki, the man who ended LeBron’s run into June in 2011, is also no stranger to international competition. Technically, for him, just playing in the NBA is international competition, and while he understands why the league goes for 82 games, he thinks it’s a bit silly as a basketball exercise. From Tim McMahon and Dave McMenamin at ESPN:

"I think you don't need 82 games to determine the best eight in each conference," Nowitzki said Wednesday. "That could be done a lot quicker, but I always understand that it's about money, and every missed game means missed money for both parties, for the league, for the owners, for the players. I understand all that, and that's why I don't think it's going to change anytime soon."

[…]

"Honestly, I never was a big fan of back-to-backs even when I was 20 years old," said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old entering his 17th NBA season. "I think that you should never have to play at the highest level there is two consecutive nights and flying in between. You obviously make it work. We have the best athletes in the world, we feel, but I think it hurts the product some. Last year, some teams get here for the fourth game in five nights and we've been sitting here on rest and just blow them out.

"I don't think it's good for the product, but I also understand that 82 games is where it's at. It's a business, and everybody's got to live with it."

Michael Jordan stepped in to play the tough guy, after that:

"I love both of those guys, but as an owner who played the game, I loved playing,'' Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, told ESPN during a telephone interview. "If I wasn't playing 82 games, I still would've been playing somewhere else because that's the love for the game I had. As a player, I never thought 82 games was an issue.

"But if that's what they want to do, we as owners and players can evaluate it and talk about it. But we'd make less money as partners. Are they ready to give up money to play fewer games? That's the question, because you can't make the same amount of money playing fewer games.''

It should be noted that Michael Jordan only played international ball for Team USA twice, with one appearance coming before his first NBA game. He also declined an invitation to play in the 1996 Olympics.

Michael Jordan also retired due to burnout in 1993, at his peak. He retired. The greatest competitor in the history of the sport backed away from the sport because he was beat to hell by it, even as he was dominating it. He'd do the same again in 1999 and 2003.

There are regular-season pennant races, if you can call them that without laughing, at the top of each conference sometimes. Mid-April attempts by lower seeds to squeeze into the playoff bracket are fun and they also help you forget the fact that so many other teams are either tanking to improve playoff matchups in the middle of the standings, or resting their top players with the team’s playoff status assured in the final week (or more) of the season, but … yeah. The playoff teams are more or less settled by March, if not earlier.

This is where the shortened games would aid us in this regard, though, right? Trimming the minutes played to 44 a night would have the same effect of lopping seven games off the NBA’s schedule, and wouldn’t that help?

From Zach Harper’s report prior to an Atlanta Hawks/Miami Heat exhibition game:

"It's something that we talked about in Chicago as coaches," Hawks' coach Mike Budenholzer said during pregame. "I think there's a lot of different opinions. I personally think it's something we should look at as a positive. I think just for a lot of different reasons -- how we manage players, how we manage the season, the fans' experience, and everybody's experience.

I think it's great that the league is open-minded and looking at everything and not just following the same path because it's been done that way for however many years. I think it's a real testament to Adam Silver and the league that they're open."

This falls in line with the NBA’s press release following the “recent coaches’ meeting” in Chicago. Coaches are way into giving up timeouts and further control over the game they obsess over.

Maybe:

From Scott Agness at Vigilant Sports, in dealing with Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel … maybe:

“Personally, I don’t really like it,” Vogel told reporters.

Vogel impression is that there are a handful of reasons the league is looking into, and TV, in trying to fit games in specific time slots, is a key part of that.

“I don’t have enough minutes to get all my guys enough minutes to keep them happy,” he said. “You’re going to take away four a game, that’s going to make my job harder.”

And we’re back to Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, from CBS Sports, keeping us in check:

"I don't think it's a matter of how long the game is," Spoelstra said. "I think there's too many games, to be frank. I think if there's some way to find a way to cut out some of the back-to-backs so there aren't 20-plus of them. I think that's the bigger issue, not shaving off four minutes in a particular game. But I'm open to seeing what happens with that."

[…]

Spoelstra added, "I think everybody probably agrees there's too many games in a short period of time."

Not everyone.

The NBA doesn’t agree with this. Starting in 2014-15, they’ll cram 82 games into an even shorter amount of time, as an extended All-Star break will force teams into playing more back to back nights. The season starts around the same time and ends around the same time, and because players will (rightfully) take in a longer break in mid-February, that 82-game schedule will be even more compressed.

And it makes no sense.

I am enjoying these baseball playoffs, and would be enjoying them with the same gusto even if my favorite team wasn’t currently in contention for the pennant. Most of you are enjoying your various football-related pursuits, and most of us should probably be watching more hockey – because hockey is awesome. It’s a loaded and wonderful sportin’ schedule, as the leaves fall.

The NBA should be playing games right now, though. Games that count. It doesn’t like the idea of competing with the baseball playoffs, and Turner won’t like the idea of the potential for TNT and TBS to be splitting the eyeballs of sports fans (though the Kansas City Royals took care of that in quick order), but the NBA should have tipped off on Tuesday. Not two weeks from Tuesday. The NBA probably should have tipped off even earlier than that, when the NHL’s similarly-sized season starts.

The extended calendar year would allow for 82 games, 48 minutes, continuity in the record books, and for that Utah Jazz fan working in Boston to either see his favorite team live once per year in person at a game, or allow him or her to tune in via the local sports station available on their basic cable package. It would allow for an extended All-Star break that the players truly need, and it wouldn’t cram a sub-standard product down the throats of NBA fans who for years have had to live with tired legs and the knowledge that, “yeah, we’re probably going to punt this one tonight because they played in Memphis last night.”

The NBA will never do this because they like a tidy package, and we get it. A tip-off pitched in deft swirls around the finishing baseball season and ongoing NFL slamdance. A Christmas Day revisit for those who weren’t paying attention during the first two months. A February reminder over one star-studded weekend, a post-NCAA tournament run to the end, and the glory of the two-month NBA playoffs. It’s a fantastic thing.

It needs to be longer, though. For the sake of the product. We’re not out to save LeBron James’ cramping calves or Kevin Durant’s fifth metatarsal so much as we’re out to see these guys at their best 82 times. Guys are going to accidentally sprain their ankles and they’re also going to drink too many vodka/cranberries the night before, things are never going to be perfect, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be adjustments.

Keep the numbers, extend the calendar, limit the fatigue. For the fans.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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