According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the NBA will implement an updated player resting policy for the 2020-21 season.
In a season with limited – if any – fans in arenas, television revenue is more important than ever to the NBA, especially after the 2019-20 season produced less-than-stellar ratings. To combat that drop, the league will take additional steps to prevent healthy stars from being rested for nationally televised games.
In recent years, the NBA has cracked down on healthy players sitting out, but for the most part, the bark has been bigger than the bite. Save for a few notable exceptions, teams have been able to skirt the rules on what constitutes "rest", as well as the definition of "healthy".
This time around, the NBA likely won't be quite so lenient. Haynes adds that in addition to potential fines, teams will not be allowed to rest multiple healthy players for the same game – even if that game is not nationally televised. Additionally, teams will be advised against resting healthy players during away games.
On the surface, this feels like the league getting out in front of something many have forecasted might be an issue during a condensed season. Healthy stars sitting out games is nothing new for the NBA, and with an increase in back-to-backs and fewer days off, it's natural to expect teams – especially the good ones – to build in rest for star players. More than ever before, the NBA has become a what have you done in the playoffs? league, so being healthy and well-rested for the postseason is priority number one for marquee stars like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
For the most part, I wouldn't expect much to change this season. Monday's report feels like more of a stern reminder than a threat. More than anything, it's a reminder to be strategic. Resting star players is still allowed under league rules, but please don't sit Giannis Antetokounmpo for a Friday night ESPN game in Miami. Maybe sit him for that Tuesday night matchup against the Hornets.
In addition, the new policy aims to curb the practice of mass-resting multiple key players for one game – particularly on the road. The thought is that if you're going to deprive viewers of LeBron James, at least allow them to see Anthony Davis.
In general, this shouldn't be a big deal for the majority of the league. It'll be a minor headache for the teams at the top, but players typically want to play in national TV games. Plus, it makes more sense, from a competitive standpoint, for the Lakers to rest James or Leonard against the Magic or the Spurs than the Clippers or the Nuggets. But for a player like James, who's openly joked (at least we think) about taking a month off after playing into October in the bubble, picking out those load management nights will be a bit more difficult.
Of the Lakers' 37 first-half games, 16 (about 43 percent) will be nationally televised on ABC, TNT or ESPN. Good luck finding any sympathy for the defending champs, but by virtue of having the most national TV games, the Lakers will have the fewest opportunities to rest for James and Anthony Davis. Factoring in the league's attempt to ban teams from resting stars on the road, the Lakers will have only seven first-half games that meet the NBA's acceptable rest criteria.
Teams with 10 or more national TV games: Lakers: 16; Celtics: 14; Mavericks: 14; Pelicans: 14; Warriors: 14; Nets: 13; Bucks: 12; Clippers: 11; Heat: 10
On the flip side, teams with few or no national TV games will essentially have free rein when it comes to resting players – at least for home games.
The Wizards, Thunder, Spurs, Pistons, Magic, Kings and Cavaliers have no national TV games during the first half of the season. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves, Knicks, Hornets, Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and Grizzlies play on national TV three times or fewer. Granted, the bulk of those teams aren't exactly booking their hotels for the Conference Finals, but they'll have a leg up when it comes to rest flexibility.
All in all, the league is doing what it can to preserve TV ratings and ensure the best product is on the floor as much as possible. We'll surely see some teams push the limits of the new guidelines, but on balance, I don't foresee it being a significant roadblock.
When it comes to mapping out rest nights, teams will have to be more strategic than in years past. But at the end of the day, the NBA is a players' league. If the league wants to launch a full-scale investigation into whether James Harden's quad was actually sore enough to keep him out of a national TV game, it's a battle they'll likely end up losing.