NBA Is Trying To Solve the Player Fatigue Problem

It is the fifth night of a road trip and the Bulls are in Minnesota. Last night they were in Denver. The only thing Pau Gasol can do to summon enough energy to chase after a Zach LaVine fast break is exhale. LaVine dunks. Gasol doesn’t even cross half court, his hands are on his knees, gasping for air, gazing at the bench. He is tired, dogged tired. It is February and there are still 35 games to go, games like this on a hellish Western Conference trip.

Reason, not logic, explains the schedule. There are 82 games. There are television advertisers and sponsors. There is TNT and their game of the week, expecting the best teams regardless of where they were the night before, in what arena. There is the Grammy Trip and the Circus Trip and the Rodeo Trip. There are the 82 nights in Staples Center, the only arena that has to find nights for two teams. It is a tremendous task trying to fit it all together.

But in the early drafts of the NBA schedule there is a notable absence for the upcoming season that is certain to please players, trainers and coaches. The fourth game in five nights is nearly eliminated, according to those who have seen the schedule. It is Adam Silver delivering on his promise to try to fix the problem of tired players leading to catastrophic injuries.

“One of the things we’re hoping to address, even for next season, is to come close as we can to eliminating four games out of five nights. We’re also focused on back to backs. I think we cam make a dramatic impact.” Adam Silver.

Every season there are schedule losses you can pencil in ink. It all feels preordained. Playing in Los Angeles after a long plane trip from Portland. To and from Denver. The Texas triangle with back to backs in Houston and San Antonio and two days rest before playing Dallas. Toronto in the afternoon and then NYC the next night.

Sleep is the injured party. There just isn’t enough of it. Doc Rivers was on to something when he cancelled shoot around his last year in Boston.

The fix isn’t as simplistic as cutting out one game on a road or eliminating a few back to backs. The financial power of television is such that the tail wags the dog. Television revenue keeps the league in business, and their say is spectacularly important. Fewer games sounds noble but the negotiated television deal is dependent upon a fixed set of economic realities. Besides, the players union isn’t going to accept the lower salaries that is derived from fewer games.

Steve Kerr doesn’t mind back to backs but the long road trips are a killer. “When you have a bunch of games bunched together over ten days, it’s tough. It would be nice to see those eliminated.”

The regular season often feels like a marathon compressed into a sprint. While the playoffs are the opposite. The first two rounds of the playoffs are identified by the numbers of nights teams have off. Teams in the playoffs don’t play back to back games. Sometimes the games are spaced out so teams have three days of rest. It is a perfect blueprint for how the regular season should be constructed but then that would mean a 55-60 game schedule. Sounds good but revenues would change, salaries would drop, everything the NBA has built up as far as profit margins and revenue and monopolistic competition would be lost.

The league has never been more explosive. The players are quicker with more velocity and faster from baseline to baseline. It doesn’t take much for a tired player to make one small misstep in a move they have made a thousand times to the rim but this time the body is in revolt because the body is sensitive to its own health. It will quit before a player will.

A rash of injuries to key players these past few years has set off red flags that superstars are playing too much. It’s en vogue now to rest players in season, to force them not to play.

But no matter what the NBA does to the schedule the beat goes on. Preseason games overseas. Preseason games here. Regular season games that fit the TNT schedule or the ESPN schedule. Christmas Day games. ABC games. As long as the money is pouring in to the tune of a billion strong, change is slow in coming. The tail is wagging the dog.


photos via llananba