With NBA player rest, health, and safety at the forefront of concern given the growing number of devastating injuries over the years, commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today’s Sam Amick that over the coming years, the league may look at what a regular season looks like 10 years from now.
“There’s nothing magical about 82 games,” Silver said. “It’s been in place for 50 years, but for the long-term planning of the league, as we learn more about the human body and the wear and tear of travel and the competitive landscape ... invariably we’ll look at the regular season.”
Why cutting the season down from 82 games makes sense
Last year, player resting became an issue after marquee teams — namely the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Spurs — opted to sit their star players during nationally televised games. That drew ire from the league office, which felt resting players was a slap in the face to fans who come out to see big names in their town, and subsequently sent a memo to team owners, urging them to have more of a say in which games players sit out.
The issue in some cases, though, was teams were resting players to prevent injury as a byproduct of the NBA’s grueling schedule.
Cleveland, for example, rested LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love in the second-to-last game of an arduous stretch of six games in nine nights that featured not one, but two back-to-backs. That’s borderline negligence.
Silver already attempted to space out the season by moving the start date up from Oct. 27 to Oct. 17. That allowed the league to eliminate stretches of four games in five nights and lessen the number of back-to-back games on the schedule.
But you can only space the season out so much. Players need the offseason to recover, and with 82 games on the docket, there’s only so much tinkering the league office can do without meddling with players’ off time.
If there’s nothing magical about the number 82, its tenure is the only thing keeping it around.
There have been 82 games in a season for 50 years, but it’s clear that eventually, that number will have to take a dip to preserve player longevity.
Just last season, the NBA lost Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine, and Derrick Rose among others to devastating knee injuries. Those wear-and-tear type injuries could dramatically decline with fewer games to play.
Here’s a quick way for the league to shave down the schedule: Each team should have to play the 15 teams from their opposing conference once at home and once on the road. They should play their 10 non-divisional conference teams three times a year (30) and their four divisional rivals four times each (16). That total of 76 games removes six games from the regular season schedule and could give Silver even more room for flexibility and creativity in between games.
Besides, nobody has anything against the number 76, right?
It’s clear the NBA acknowledges the issue at the crux of player rest and health, and Silver is at least beginning the discussion on ways to address it. For now, that’s all we can ask for.