Solving the NBA Rest Problem
The NBA has come under some fire lately, mostly from their network partners, but also from fans for, the recent trend or explosion of DNP's for rest. There were eight recorded last year and this year there have been over 300 reported and counting. This resting has included superstar players like LeBron James and Steph Curry.
I see the logic in it for the teams. It's pretty simple for example as Boston Celtics fan I'm okay with them resting their superstar Isiah Thomas in a game against a team that is languishing at the bottom of the standings. In theory, this would make him fresher and more energized come playoff time. However, the NBA more than any other professional sports league is solely marketed and sold on great individual players. So when Isiah Thomas doesn't play, immediately any interest in their game is significantly reduced to the casual fan. It's the equivalent of removing Leonardo DiCaprio from the Wolf of Wall St. and replacing him with Jay Baruchel.
That probably wouldn't be that big of a deal if it weren't for the amount of money involved. First, let's look at the fans, they are paying their hard earned money to go and take their family's to these games. It's not unreasonable to say for a dad to take his son or daughter to an NBA game he's probably looking to spend at least $400-$500. Once they've bought the seats, they have no recourse at all when the players they came to see are absent. When they see it's just for rest, it could be devastating. In this economy, that amount of money is no small sum. With the teams and players making much more than that they honestly don't care. For the customers, it's buyer beware.
Next, let's look at the bigger business that maybe the NBA should start trying to care about, The networks and the advertisers. ESPN/ABC have made it abundantly clear that they have dropped something like 20 billion for the rights to broadcast some prime time NBA games. And when these teams decide the stars aren't playing tonight then ESPN is paying billions and left holding their dicks. The advertisers who bought the ad space for the broadcast are not going to be barking at the NBA for resting their players. The network has to answer for the decreased viewership and interest.
There's more to this though because the NBA seems to have a lack of self-awareness when it comes to this issue. Often they decry that the schedule is too hard and the season is too long. When all that comes out of their mouths, I want to slap them across the face. The lowest level players make at least six figures a year and stars can make around eight, and that excludes endorsements. I'm sorry if the schedule is hard but isn't that why you are paid all that money?
Meanwhile, there are workers out there that have to put in six days a week for dirt compared to your salary, and you have the nerve to complain that your job playing basketball can be hard. How about you complain to the electrician that lights up you locker room how hard your job is. Or why don't you tell the guy who is installing that 24k gold toilet seat in your vacation mansion about how he doesn't want your job. They are the customers, and I highly doubt you'd be able to drum up much sympathy.
So how can you fix this problem, can you punish teams or players? No, I don't think you can because if you disqualify a team's ability to deactivate a player for rest, they will just make up an injury for the report. You also can't force a player to play hurt, the legitimacy of the injury report doesn't matter. We are talking about million dollar livelihoods, and they shouldn't be forced to put them at risk. The networks involved signed a legally binding contract. The schedules can't change much because the arenas NBA teams play in are often leased and have other events to plan around.
I do however have a solution it's very simple, Cut four teams from each conference out of the playoff picture. Right now the NBA takes eight teams from each conference. There are thirty teams in the NBA, so sixteen make the playoffs, I'm no stat wizard but doesn't that mean guaranteed every year at least two below average teams that have played an 82 game schedule make the playoffs. Quickly the rebuttal to this will be that I am cutting off a whole round of playoff revenue it will never happen.
If you look at the rate, the NBA is pissing off its partners and fans when it comes time to sit back down to get a new contract. They could potentially lose out on far more than the amount gained by making us watch the Cavs squish the Bucks 4 times. All my solution does it put more of a premium on the playoff spots. That critically damages the rest strategy, by creating less room for error. All those games that are perceived meaningless now suddenly become matchups teams have to win. The more marquee matchups become must win. If you create a scenario where the teams have to earn a playoff spot the competitive nature that got the players to that level will finally shine through.