Tonight, the Boston Celtics crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers. Of course, the Cavs played without Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith? Why? Because the Cavs had clinched the second seed in the East and so the games really don't matter to them anymore.
Years ago, David Stern fined the Spurs for not even bringing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Danny Green to Miami for the last game of a road trip. Granted, that was earlier in the season, and Stern said the fine was because they didn't inform the media and league far enough in advance that those players wouldn't be there, but let's be honest, the strategy in each case was the same: rest your best players for the playoffs, when it really matters.
Greg Popovich is by far the best coach in the NBA, and he's just doing something more teams should do. If your ultimate goal is to win in the post season, resting your players during the regular season makes all sorts of sense, especially if home court advantage is diminishing. Lebron took a self-imposed sabbatical of a couple weeks mid-season this year, mostly because he was tired. This might become an annual tradition for him, and why not? He came back noticeably fresher and the Cavs have been on fire ever since. As he ages, he should preserve the best of his remaining minutes for the highest leverage moments. The regular season falls below that cut line.
Of course, if you're a fan who paid several hundred dollars or more for your seats, only to find one or both teams resting their best players that night, you might have a different idea of just how wonderful a strategy that is. One reason I've stopped attending many NBA regular season games is that even when both teams are at full strength, the intensity is often noticeably throttled down. Given the steep price of a half-decent seat these days, a regular season NBA game often isn't a great entertainment value. I'd rather spend a lot to see one playoff game than spend the same amount to see three or four middling regular season games.
A better solution would be to shorten the number of games in the regular season. Everyone knows it's too long, even if they won't admit it publicly. As always with professional sports, it's doubtful the owners, league, and players would be willing to forego the additional revenue from all those superfluous games. But if more and more players like Lebron just choose to watch games from the sidelines in their three piece suits, as if they were taking “personal days” in the business world, perhaps the league will try to save face and pare back the schedule. During Lebron's sabbatical this season he wasn't even at all the games he missed, he spent some of that time vacationing in Miami. Why was he even on the bench tonight? What if he were posting photos to Instagram from Drake's set at Coachella tonight instead?
If the NBA won't shorten its regular season (let's be honest, they won't), perhaps on days when the teams choose to just sit their stars, the league should give some of the ticket revenue back to fans in the form of a credit towards concessions and the gift shop, or towards a future game. Or perhaps even offer a partial refund.
Can you imagine purchasing a ticket ahead of time to see Furious 7, only to arrive at the theater to be told that Vin Diesel is taking that night's showing off because he is feeling beaten up from all the movie's stunt work?
“The role of Dom Toretto will be played tonight by Mr. Diesel's understudy, former American Idol contestant Chris Daughtry.”