Well, we’ve got it. An NBA professional has offered to give some of his salary back to create a smaller season for the league, which has played 82 games in all but two of its 70 seasons. It’s a personality you’d expect, and a prominent one, as Golden State coach Steve Kerr has finally gone on record and offered to hand back a whopping eight percent of his yearly salary in order to help clear the way for an NBA campaign that features an appropriate amount of games.
Kerr says he’s cool with 75 games. That’s about 25 games too many, but hey, every pointed political movement has to start somewhere, so why not begin in the bowels of a basketball arena in Dallas?
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it, even at the expense of my own salary,” Kerr, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Warriors in 2014, told reporters Tuesday night before Golden State’s win over Dallas. “But it’s something that everybody would have to agree to. Even, just going down to 75 games, I think that would make a dramatic difference in the schedule.
“I don’t see that happening, because there’s money at stake for everybody. I do think this can be remedied, though. Maybe not remedied, but I think it can be dramatically helped with what the league is already working on for next year.”
There is the catch, one that you’re probably already aware of, and one that Kerr points out.
The NBA has already set into motion not only a setup that allows for far fewer back-to-back games and nutty scheduling runs for 2017-18 and beyond, and the league has already initiated a penalty policy pitched in the hopes of dissuading teams from resting its star players for games both big and otherwise (a Warriors win in Dallas, say, on a Tuesday) between now and the end of the 2016-17 season. The W’s coach also notes accurately that seven fewer games won’t really help much.
Kerr also acknowledged accurately that, in spite of the holes in the policy, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had to do something, however blatantly circumventable. Calling the Silver’s statement “the right thing to do,” Kerr explained himself further via Tim Cato at SBNation:
“This is something that every organization needs to partner together with the league and our broadcasting partners and figure out what’s best for everybody,” Kerr said. “We all have the same interests at heart, which is why we need to do what’s best for the league. But there are great arguments on every side.”
There is certainly a prerogative for coaches and teams to rest their top players when advantageous in order to keep them fresh through an 82-game season.
“It’s shown to be so this past week,” Kerr said. “You can see our guys are fresher, their legs. So what can we all do, together? And I think that’s where Adam is really good in terms of taking a lot of opinions and finding solutions. This is not a right or wrong issue. It’s what can we do to best serve the league, best serve the player’s health.
“Is there a compromise? We’re already working on that by extending the season next year by 7-10 days. I think that’s going to be very helpful and I think the broadcast partners and the league can pay closer attention to the schedule when it comes out next year as they put that together.”
If they put it together properly. Again, there is a real chance the NBA could screw this up. Not because the league is incapable of noting that players don’t work their best after flying from city to city immediately prior to their date with ABC’s makeup chair, they get it, but because of the enormity of the task. It is damned hard, even 70 years into this, to accommodate these teams. Especially a club like Golden State, which will once again lead the NBA in miles flown in 2016-17.
Those poor, millionaire, players. Stan Van Gundy’s words, not mine.
(Those weren’t his words. Stan Van Gundy is better at words than that. Here’s what the Detroit coach had to say about the plight of the paid attendee on Tuesday night.)
“My only thing is that I hope that everybody, when they’re making the decisions, whatever it is they decide, at least factors the fans into the decision. To me, look, I think the perspective we tend to lose in this league is who we get paid by. And we get paid by the fans.
“We get paid by the fans in the arena, we get paid by the fans on TV,” Van Gundy continued. “And so you may come to the decision still that it’s best to rest guys. I get that. But hopefully you’ve at least factored in the fans and their experience and what we’re doing with that. And then whatever decision you come to — look, everybody, they’re not easy decisions. I’m not trying to criticize anybody else specifically. I just hope we do consider the fans because I think in large part, maybe in all of pro sports, we tend to disregard the fans. And without them, we don’t have pro sports.”
More Stan Van Gundy, on how we've all gone soft. pic.twitter.com/qrNthRVODb
— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) March 21, 2017
What we’re hoping is that the NBA will, in the end, act as the “smart” ones needed to cobble all of this together. Essentially, the league’s otherwise-dreary month of March has mostly centered on the narrative that most NBA teams (good, or tanking) don’t truly need to play a dozen or more games in the month of March in the first place, and that’s a storyline that cannot continue past this season. The league has one more chance.
It probably does speak to the balance of pro sporting culture that in just two years (or, within the course of one season) we’ve moved away from the “will someone think of the poor fans”-chronicles and into something more substantial. Yes, the fans were always at the heart of this, but nobody solves a problem like the NBA currently has without getting into why, exactly, teams are preventing customers from getting what they deserve.
NBA teams aren’t out to harm the fans, here, and they take no great job in sitting in front of paid customers. This doesn’t get fixed, however, without delving into the real roadblocks, and that’s the need for the players to be rested. It’s to our credit that the NBA and its observers have gotten away from prattling on studiously about the plight of the fan that bought a ticket to a Denver Nuggets/Golden State Warriors game in March, or a Pacers game in November, into what really matters.
The fans matter most, and the way to make the fans happier is to present NBA players at their working best as many times as possible.
The best way toward that end is to shorten the season, and that’s not happening.
The next solution is to rest certain players judiciously, regardless of opponent or stage, at selected times during the season. That, understandably, pisses EVERYONE off.
The best solutions after that are to keep pressure on organizations to make this sort of team-building exercise a little less obvious, and to revisit the length of the schedule in order to create pockets of rest that aren’t spent napping on the clock, with the paying fan watching from a hundred rows up. The NBA, between now and the 2017-18’s schedule’s release, is currently on the clock, charged with working through the unenviable task of making every millionaire and billionaire side on this five-pointed star happy with what they’ve paid for.
The fans are not represented with a point on that star, but the hope is that they’ll be happy with the turnout in the end. Starting this spring, one would presume, when outfits from Cleveland, Golden State and San Antonio would expectedly be fresh as a daisy come playoff-time, due to their snaps of “rest.” Though LeBron James, mind you, is still one overtime contest (they’ll play in Denver’s thin air on Wednesday) and 48-minute box score away from leading the NBA in minutes per game.
This, hopefully, is the last we’ll talk about this – because Steve Kerr will never be put in a situation where he’s asked to give back $400,000 of his $5 million salary (for Kevin Durant, it would be $2.12 million off of a $26.5 million campaign) in order to work seven fewer games, because seven fewer games will hardly make a difference. An order of 75 games is still too much.
No, you need longer seasons and more chances for rest and proper travel. Same as it ever was. Even when Pat Riley, then coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, rested some of his ex-champs all the way back in the last year of Showtime. The great Dwight Jaynes found this old nugget recently, with Riles complaining ceaselessly after deciding to sit Magic Johnson and James Worthy in a meaningless game, contest No. 82 (what could have been win No. 64) in the 1989-90 season, followed by an NBA fine:
“I have an obligation to our management,” the Lakers coach said Tuesday. “I decide who the heck I want to play.” If (the league) is going to start getting in the way of who I want to play and when I want to play them, maybe they ought to come out here and put on the coach’s shirt themselves . . .
“I’m sort of beside myself on this,” Riley said. “Obviously, a new rule has been made, a new precedent set. I didn’t do it out of disregard for the league. I did it for the well-being of our players. They do it (rest starters in meaningless games) in other sports.”
A statement issued Tuesday in New York by NBA Commissioner David Stern said the Lakers were being fined “for failing to play two healthy players who are normally starters” in Sunday night’s game.
Riley would move on to leave the Lakers for the friendlier confines of NBC during that offseason. Then-Trail Blazers owner Harry Glickman offered a rather 2017-era response to Riley’s decision to go all Hammer Time with his Lakers in 1990:
“I think (Riley) cheated the fans,” Glickman said. “I think it (the fine) was a very appropriate action for the commissioner to take. I felt all along the commissioner would take some kind of action.
“I hope that it sends a message to the Lakers and to all of us that you don’t do those kinds of things.”
“It really was an insignificant game for us,” Riley said after the game at Portland. “I do want to apologize to the Portland fans. They paid their money to see us play. But this game was bigger than that for us. I had a gut feeling that we might get (injuries) if we played our guys. It’s always a war up here.”
It’s never been “a war,” in any road NBA city, but it can feel like that. Every position in every profession puts you in the weeds at some point, and sometimes even millionaires need help being their best while on the clock.
Steve Kerr has put his $400,000 on the table. Now it’s the NBA’s turn to see this through.
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