After resting his team’s three stars during a nationally televised game on Saturday, Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue had no time to hear criticism of his decision.
“I mean, it’s stupid,” Lue told Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon. “Kyrie didn't come back the game before, knee soreness, Kevin just had his first game back, we needed two days in between each game. It's OK, though, whatever. It's stupid.”
The Cavaliers resting their three stars came one week after Golden State did the same thing on national TV. On the end of a brutal travel schedule, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr sat Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala against San Antonio. What was supposed to be a premiere matchup for the league turned into a boring blowout by the Spurs, who were missing Kawhi Leonard with a concussion.
On Saturday, Lue rested the Big Three — LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love — on the front end of a road back-to-back. Naturally, the Clippers beat Cleveland in a dull, 108-78 victory. Typically, only the top teams in the league like Golden State and Cleveland are able to rest players without jeopardizing their playoff hopes. But because those team appear on national television most often, it makes the issue more prominent.
Cavaliers general manager David Griffin said the NBA contacted him to voice their displeasure in their decision almost immediately after it was announced. For the league, national television games are supposed to represent the best product the league has to offer, while fans often pay lucrative amounts for tickets to these games to see superstars in person.
Still, coaches and organizations have valid reasons for resting players, too. One study provided to ESPN showed injuries are 3.5 times more likely on the second night of a road back-to-back.
"At the end of the day, it sucks at times where certain guys have to rest but certain guys need rest," LeBron James told reporters on Sunday.
Irving had sat in the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ previous game against the Utah Jazz, a 91-83 win that featured James scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“I can't stress enough how important rest is,” Irving said. “You've got veterans who have come before us who play 82 games that have their opinions and we're just in a different time now. The smart way of taking care of your body and understanding what the important goal is at the end of the season it's at the forefront of our minds. We're playing for a championship run, playoff run.”
The NBA is planning to start the season earlier by shortening the preseason next year, hoping to reduce the number of back-to-backs league-wide even further. However, there’s a good chance the NBA will draw an even stricter line on resting players in the coming years.