The mobs were out with their pitchforks Wednesday night. The Cleveland Cavaliers went to Memphis – a night after throttling the Grizzlies at home – and left LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love home. Predictably, the Cavs lost.
This was far from an isolated case, however. Gregg Popovich, the mastermind behind the rest philosophy, sat LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeMarcus Cousins got a night off against the Houston Rockets. Even the Brooklyn Nets wasted no time in 2016-17, opting to rest center Brook Lopez in the third game of the season.
How can this be? What about the fans? What about competitive balance? I have news for those concerned: This trend isn’t stopping, and there’s nothing wrong with it, either.
Yes, fans pay good money to see LeBron play, but his situation is no different than MLB catchers earning a scheduled maintenance day off during the week. Unfortunately for some Yankee fan in Kansas City, Gary Sanchez might not play during a July game against the Royals. Teams need to operate in their best interests.
The Cavaliers are built for the playoffs. They have their sights set on another NBA championship, not overextending their star players in the midst of an arduous schedule and a home-and-home against a physical Memphis team.
Who is to tell Tyronn Lue what is best for LeBron? He has already, at 32 years of age, played more minutes than Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. James recently eclipsed 47,000 career minutes. And he can’t have a night off?
Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni delivered his thought on the matter after his team clobbered the Kings–without Cousins (and Rudy Gay, for good measure). “"My thought on holding people out in mass, I'm not really for it," D'Antoni said. "You think of the kid that travels three hours to see somebody and they don't show up, it's tough. So it's complicated. I know every coach is trying to do the best for his team and trying to win. He has to do what he thinks is right to win. The league may a have to look at it and figure it out."
It is complicated, and the NBA really has no means to prevent this situation. The Nets will play back-to-back games 13 times during the season, with every other team in a similar ballpark. Coaches are taking medical advice to try and ward off injuries.
Nothing stops the Cavs from saying LeBron has back-tightness or a headache or a sore ankle. That’s what will happen, making legislation a very slippery slope. And ultimately, viewership is at its peak during the playoffs – where NBA fans were treated to a thrilling Finals, where James was at his absolute best. We shouldn’t sacrifice a great postseason for a few games in December.