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Adam Silver warns NBA teams of ‘significant penalties’ for resting stars without notice

With the Cleveland Cavaliers recently resting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in a marquee game on national television on March 18, the topic of rest has once again become a hot button issue in the NBA. Teams rest their players to maintain their health throughout the lengthy 82-game season and the playoffs, which is a sound strategy that has been proven in recent years to work. But while this is a good practice, it also robs fans the experience of watching superstar players play live in person or during a nationally televised game.

Hoping to prevent this issue from occurring again, NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to every team, warning them of “significant penalties” for teams that don’t alert the league about a key player sitting out a game due to rest. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on Silver’s memo:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has called the practice of teams resting marquee players “an extremely significant issue for our league” in a memo sent to team owners Monday and obtained ‎by ESPN.

In the memo, Silver informed teams that the issue will be a prime topic of discussion at the next NBA board of governors meeting April 6 in New York and warned of ‎”significant penalties” for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ‎”notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”

He states that it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on “fans and business partners,” the reputation of the league and “perception of our game.”

Shelburne’s report includes Silver’s quotes from All-Star weekend where he addressed the issue of rest. Silver noted at the time, that starting next season, there will be less preseason games and an extra week will be added to the schedule, which will cut down on the number of back-to-backs. This is all part of the new collective bargaining agreement and although those are just minor changes, it should lessen the number of times teams rest their star players throughout the course of a season.

But the main reason Silver sent out this memo is likely related to the league’s relationship with their broadcast partners. Saturday’s game involving the Cavs and Clippers was on ABC and on the broadcast, Jeff Van Gundy ripped Cleveland for resting their stars. ESPN even released a statement about the game, which mentioned that they were working with the league on how to best deal with the issue of rest. In addition, the NBA separately reached out to the Cavs to get further clarification on why James, Irving and Love didn’t play against the Clippers.

Both monetarily and exposure-wise, the NBA benefits greatly from their broadcast partners. So the timing of Silver’s memo is quite understandable. ESPN was angry that one of their marquee games of the week was a complete dud, a fact that was known beforehand and likely prevented scores of fans from tuning in. And in an effort to prevent that from happening again, Silver sent this memo, which at the very least reminds teams they could be fined for resting players without notification. That’s what happened to the Spurs in 2012, when the league fined San Antonio $250,000 for resting Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green in national televised game against the Miami Heat.

Whether or not Silver’s memo actually makes a difference remains to be seen. In order to get prepared for the playoffs, elite teams will likely rest some of the stars in these final games of the season. But as Silver’s memo states, if they alert the league ahead of time, it shouldn’t be a problem.

The real takeaway from Silver’s memo will likely happen next season, when changes to the schedule are implemented. If cutting down on the preseason and adding an extra week curbs resting, then all of this spirited debate will slowly fade away and not be an issue anymore. If it doesn’t, then perhaps Silver’s threat of “significant penalties” will actually have to be carried out.

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