Kevin Durant is here to remind us that NBA observers – representatives from the league office on high, us basement-dwelling scribes down ‘ere, or the public at large – tend to focus on stars above all. Plays made by stars, records set by stars, things said by stars, and (too often) games sat by stars.
LeBron James discussed the two things to end that list earlier in March, and now Golden State Warriors famous man and 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant has added to the swell. Durant, currently on the shelf while mending an MCL sprain in his left knee, thinks the reaction from the league office (in the form of a memo warning of “significant penalties” for resting teams) has gotten a little heavy-handed in the face of a trend that only seems to include a chosen few for obvious reasons:
“The truth about it is, it’s only for a couple of players in the league,” Durant told ESPN. “They don’t care if the 13th man on the bench rests. It’s only for like LeBron [James], Steph [Curry], [James] Harden, Russell [Westbrook]. It’s only for like five players. So you want a rule just for those five players?”
Yes. The NBA wants a rule just for those five players. Just as leagues were right to set up rules protecting the game against the overwhelming dominance of George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain (right moves) or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during his college days (the wrong, scaredy-cat, move). Just as Kevin Durant had a rip-through foul created in his wake because he was too good, a decade and a half after it should have been introduced (at Donyell Marshall’s behest) for Karl Malone. Just as the league changed hand-checking rules in 2004 so as not to make Eric Snow and Pepe Sanchez into Steve Nash’s and Stephon Marbury’s equal on the perimeter.
The league benefits from, changes rules for, and micromanages any unanticipated trends set by its stars. Whether it is as simple as everyone wearing leg-long leggings, as was the case back in 2005-06, or a series of stars resting for games televised nationally on ABC in prime time, the NBA is going to pay attention.
That’s how we should hope this private league, working on the shoulders of a labor agreement collectively bargained by both players and team owners, works. We like that the NBA thinks on its feet, and we like it when players like Kevin Durant (and the players’ union that works on KD’s behalf) speak out when between-CBA term rules are created without players’ consent.
“That owners be what?” James asked. “That owners be in the decision on resting players? There’s owners that don’t even — that’s not even around the teams. There’s owners that just the owner of the team because they just own the team. That’s just … whatever. What does that make any sense of?
“Adam’s great. Adam is fantastic. I love what Adam is doing for our league. But I don’t see how that — I don’t understand why it’s become a problem now. Because I started to sit out a couple games?”
Owners and league executives have to be careful when it comes to hoisting rules and penalties over a player or organization’s head without a little union representation in place during the determining stage. Luckily for all, any uneasiness beyond these talks can be temporarily scuttled (to a degree) due to the promise of an expanded NBA calendar starting in 2017-18.
Durant, on Thursday, went on in talking to Chris Haynes at ESPN:
“Players, if anything, need a mental break sometimes. And sorry, they’re human,” Durant told ESPN. “They go through so much every single day. There are so many obligations off the court that you don’t know about. … It might not be a physical break, it might just be a reset mentally, and I get that.”
Players do indeed need a mental break, as the current spots slotted for rest between NBA games clearly are not sufficient enough time to fully recover both physically and inwardly. With that in place, what would be a sufficient enough stretch between games for players that are going to have to pack it together at some point? And should the NBA be charged with handing out more days off following a win over the Spurs than, say, Sacramento? The league can’t exactly busy itself with flex scheduling along those lines, especially with clubs like Washington (pegged as mediocre, started the season a mess, world-beaters since December) popping up from time to time.
This also leaves us with games played in a vacuum, for our League Pass and/or next-day enjoyment. Some fans prefer the tangible experience, at some cost, and many fans have been burned in years like this in watching their favorites sit due to The Week Before. Durant digs:
“And I also get if I was a fan and could afford to get tickets, and I’m circling LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook on my calendar, I would want to see them play live. I would be disappointed as well. I see it from the fans’ perspective and the players’ perspective. I’m caught right in the middle.”
Closer to the top than “the middle,” we would submit, because most non-stars with huge minutes averages rarely sit. Timberwolves Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are all in the top ten in minutes played per game this season because their coach is insane, none of the three has taken a game off due to rest this season. Confirmed Star and No. 7 Minutes Guy James Harden famously relents on the rest front, though he may have to soon, while Toronto’s Kyle Lowry took but one game off for rest this year before wrist surgery halted his run as the NBA’s active minutes per game leader.
LeBron sits up there now, in a move that doesn’t appear to be working out for anyone. He rests every so often to great derision, but plays big minutes otherwise for a Cavaliers team that has clearly lost its way.
Durant’s Warriors? Not so much. They’re the hottest team in the NBA right now, the franchise is taking it sensibly with Durant’s return from time spent on the shelf, and Kevin was hardly breaking the bank minutes-wise in his first season in the Bay Area. W’s coach Steve Kerr plays KD (who suffered from overuse-induced stress fractures two years ago) but 33.6 minutes per game in 2016-17, a career-low, and the results seem to speak for themselves. As they do in San Antonio, where Kawhi Leonard plays a ridiculously low 33.7 minutes per game at age 25.
Stars have it differently, and they are accommodated in ways that are fair (foul calls, max contracts) and unfair (these guys get fouled a lot, these guys should make way more than they do in comparison to the team’s 10th man). Players on the end of the bench aren’t really afforded rest nights, if at all, in the same obvious manner that starters are – much less superstar starters.
There aren’t a whole lot of NBA starters, run of the mill guys, that are treated to nights off like LeBron James and other stars sometimes are. Though that middling starter would be the first to admit that, even given similar minutes allotments, the physical and mental burden is far, far more that star’s to be burdened with than it is the helper.
Yet again we’re spending what we hope will be the final weeks of this conflict discussing what we already know, yet reminding ourselves of things that should be kept in our mind’s eye as the NBA sets to shoot to eliminate this problem once and for all. A little chatter, just after that mid-afternoon kip, is always good for all sides.
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