For the last three seasons, the NBA has had a rule designed to accentuate the viewing experience for fans who choose to pay to watch the game live or on television.
It is called its Player Resting Policy and what it does is prohibits teams from arbitrarily holding a star out of a game on the road for reasons other than injury.
In other words, the NBA does not want you to spend $500 on two tickets to a Lakers-Celtics game in Boston only to discover when you get there neither LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be playing because the team decided they both needed a day off.
And it doesn’t want a broadcast partner spending time promoting a big national matchup only to eventually discover its telecasting a game without high-profile players for no good reason.
Then-commissioner David Stern decided the NBA needed something on the books after watching shysters like Gregg Popovich time and time again keep his stars out of games with the San Antonio Spurs. In 2012, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green were “shipped home” by Pop before the final game of a six-game road trip.
Stern flipped out because those players missed a marquee national game against the Miami Heat. He famously erupted by fining the Spurs $250,000 and calling the move a disservice to the league and the fans.
There have been many instances since 2017 when the NBA has been upset with its teams for benching players. But not until Thursday, had the league actually fined a team for doing it.
That ended when commissioner Adam Silver assessed a $25,000 fine on the Minnesota Timberwolves for not playing D’Angelo Russell in Sunday’s road game in Denver. The policy requires teams rest players only at home, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
The Wolves did not protest the fine.
“We are a player-centric organization that’s focused on learning and optimizing our players’ bodies. As a new player in our program, we chose to rest D’Angelo in order to learn his body better and to optimize his health during a difficult stretch of games and travel.”
How certain teams have been trying to circumvent this rule has proven increasingly annoying to the league. Last year, Kawhi Leonard was sat many times by the Toronto Raptors for “load management” purposes and the league took a lot of crap for it from their broadcast partners and fans.
In fact, the NBA fined the Los Angeles Clippers $50,000 earlier this season when coach Doc Rivers made conflicting comments about Leonard’s health the league had a problem with.
The league issued new guidelines for injury reporting to teams in November. According to ESPN, the term load management is now akin to rest. If a team decides to use that term to explain its decision with a player, it will mean a healthy player is taking the night off and if that’s in violation of the league policy, there will be a fine.
One would think NBA teams wouldn’t have to be reminded about their obligation to play their stars. It seems to be a natural courtesy to the networks who pay their rights fees and the fans who buy their tickets. But its not as simple as that.
With the prevalence of back-to-back games in the league, coaches and front offices are going to take every opportunity they can to give certain players rest. If there was no rule monitoring it, you could imagine teams doing it on a regular basis.
What pissed the NBA off about what Minnesota pulled was that it came on the first day after a nine-day break for All-Star weekend. The Wolves were the visitors playing during a nationally televised game and the league does not want stars kept out of those games.
According to The Athletic, when Russell was benched Wolves fans complained since Karl-Anthony Towns was already out with a wrist injury.
The Wolves point of view was different. They were entering a stretch with five games in eight nights and wanted to give Russell – dealing with multiple injuries – a little extra time off.
The NBA did not agree with their decision. So they fined them. And so they should have.
The NBA is not Major League Baseball. It does not have to contend with a 162-game schedule, day games after night games. Its players are well-paid. They also should be well-played.