Last week, The Associated Press asked a cross-section of 48 players, coaches, owners and executives if the NBA should abandon its plan of an 82-game, 170-day regular season for something with either fewer games or a longer season to get more rest to have.
The results were as muddled as the issue itself: 40% said they would simply follow what the league thinks is best, 35% said they didn’t want a change to the current format, and the remaining 25% wanted changes.
How fans will be affected is a concern. money is another.
“I think if you want to have the best player availability possible, shortening the season might be in everyone’s best interests,” said Denver coach Michael Malone. “But there’s also a lot of money lost with it – TV games, money. Let’s not forget: this is a business.”
With All-Star Weekend in the books and the regular season resuming Thursday, 19 players still have a chance to play in 82 games this season. There were only five who made it last season, 11 who played every game in a 72-game 2020-21 season, and 14 who played every possible game in the COVID-19 disrupted 2019-20 season have.
It used to be not uncommon for players to play every game, or at least almost every game. A decade ago, 2012-23, 28 players made 82 appearances. A decade earlier it was 46. John Stockton played 16 times in 82 games for Utah and missed 22 games in 19 seasons; AC Green has played 82 games 14 times in his career. None of the currently active players have logged more than five seasons of 82 games.
Antetokounmpo doesn’t want change: “I think 82 games is perfect,” he said.
Minnesota guard Anthony Edwards said what he dislikes most about the league is when players sometimes take a game to rest. His reasoning: someone might have bought a ticket for just that one game, and feelings can be hurt when the player they most want to see takes the evening off.
“Just play, man. When you’re 80%, you gotta play,” said Edwards, 21, a first-time All-Star. “I don’t like all the sitting, missing games and stuff like that. These people might have enough money to come to a game. And that might be the game they come to and you sit outside. I pride myself on trying to play every game because I don’t know it might be a fan who has never seen me play and I’m trying to play.
Kerr is a supporter of a 72-game season and has said so this year after a couple of games in which the reigning champion Warriors have given their stars – guys Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green – a night off because the team is feeling said it was in the best interests of her health.
He also knows that a 72-game season would come at a price. Literally a high price. Removing 12% of games from the schedule would theoretically reduce 12% of revenue opportunities. And while it’s unlikely owners would welcome making less money, players probably wouldn’t either.
“I feel terrible for fans who buy tickets expecting to see someone play and they can’t see that person play,” Kerr said. “It’s a brutal part of the business. So I will continue to push for 72-game seasons. And I know that means less revenue, but at some point I think there just has to be awareness among everyone involved.”
At least one other coach is listening loud and clear to Kerr.
“I think in an ideal world the season would be shorter,” said Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer. “We would spread out the games, give players more recovery time, hopefully more health. And I think one of the big focuses for fans is more player availability. But it’s a complicated equation.”
One potential change that some prefer is the idea of not squeezing 82 games into 170 days, which basically means there’s a game every other day. If you fit even an extra week into the schedule, more multi-day breaks might be possible.
The NFL and NHL have bye weeks. Minnesota coach Chris Finch wonders if the NBA should do the same.
“I think what we need to do as a league is remove all the barriers for guys who aren’t playing,” Finch said. “Back-to-backs seem like a big deal. They’ve done a really good job over the last few years trying to narrow back to back, make them smarter if you will. It doesn’t seem to me that we’re far from being able to eliminate them entirely, whether that’s fewer games or damn the season is so long now anyways, what’s another week or two?
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are currently in talks over a new collective bargaining agreement, with both sides hoping it will be finalized by next month — which hardly guarantees anything, but it’s cause for optimism.
There’s a strong possibility that an in-season tournament, something Silver has wanted for years, could be part of the NBA calendar as early as next season. But there’s no talk of changing the format for the season; Teams have been told that if the tournament is added, they’ll get an 80-game schedule this summer, with two more games — those matchups based on how they perform in the opening portion of the tournament — added later.
“I think part of the realization of playing in this league these days is that this is a year-round pursuit now,” Silver said. “I think part of injury avoidance is how players treat their bodies all year round, how teams interact with players all year round and use the best data to come to the conclusion what allows players to be like that stay healthy and grounded for as long as possible.
“We believe we can do better,” he added, “but we don’t have a concrete solution yet.”
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