Somewhere David Stern is laughing at Adam Silver for fulminating about organized and scheduled mass player rest.
And then he is sad again as he realizes that his own response back in the day was so tepid and costume-jewelry cheap that the concept he so railed against is stronger and more fashionable than ever. Because this, kids, is a losing game for your average suit.
Silver is snippy that the Cleveland Cavaliers closed up shop last Saturday night on a game ABC had cleared out Saturday night programming to show, a week after the Golden State Warriors did the same thing. Both times, the real victims were not the fans but ABC, and both times ABC turned on Silver, and Silver just passed the abuse on down the chain.
This then turned into a huge debate about teams disrespecting the fans by strategically holding out their best players when in fact it isn't that at all. What this is about is Silver trying to defend, as Stern did, the rights and prerogatives of a non-franchised client, and the teams – at least the good ones – saying, "Tell us when their needs are more important than ours."
The obvious solution that nobody seems to mention – isolating marquee games by not making them part of a back-to-back – doesn't seem to make sufficient sense to the lecturing classes. The second most obvious solution – not playing 82 regular season games – is dismissed out of hand as being too expensive to the owners.
So it becomes a morality play, in which players become lazy, pampered, slovenly idlers screwing the fans at every turn because their feet hurt. This is ignorance with oak leaf clusters, and self-defeating to the (ick! gakkk! bleargh!) brand, but that never stopped angry people from speaking stupidities.
The fact is, resting players works for them, and for their teams. If it didn't, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich wouldn't have done it so many times, and his team's owner, Peter Holt, and general manager Robert Canterbury Buford, wouldn't have signed off on it so happily and so often. If it didn't, Steve Kerr and Tyronn Lue wouldn't have done it the past two weeks.
Not only that, the owners (Holt, Joe Lacob, Dan Gilbert and anyone else lucky enough to be in such a position) have a very hard time understanding why their best (read: most expensive) assets shouldn't have their shelf lives extended so that they can maybe get an extra year at the end of their contracts rather than making sure the sanctity of that February home-and-home with the Pacers is honored.
And besides, who gets to designate what players are too valuable to rest? Silver? A network executive? Are all the Warriors on the list because they've only played three games that weren't announced sellouts? The Cavs because they have LeBron James? The Spurs for historical validity? Is James Harden that guy? Is Anthony Davis? John Wall? Giannis Antetokounmpo? Z-Bo?
Okay. Z-Bo for sure. Z-Bo is a god.
And finally, what is the effective sanction that doesn't get Silver fired? Frankly, there are only two remedies for the problem Silver has been forced to see by his angry broadcast partners – not enough, and way too much. Do you turn wins into losses? Do you mandate teams lose places in the standings? Do you fine them $250K? $500K? $5M? What's the drop-dead number, and if there is one, how many owners do you think will tolerate an employee taking money from them for lengthening the working lives of their most important players?
No, if there is a solution, it is the one that isolates marquee games so that the rest excuse plays too flimsily even to the teams themselves. I mean, if it's about rest to avoid abuse, any clot of games should be treated the same.
But in exchange for those marquee games being treated specially, the big broadcast partners pay more for the privilege, and the lesser carriers (of which we are one, and hurray for craven sucking up!) get rebated by the big kids. Everyone is a little unhappy, but nobody has to take on the suicide mission of taking on Gregg Popovich
Because this much we know – Adam Silver may have to kowtow to petulant network executives (as though there were any other kind) as part of his job, but nobody wants the Popovich matchup. He not only makes sideline reporters sweat Windex with a raised eyebrow, he once actually vaporized a marketing executive with a single thought from a Buffalo Wild Wings 1,500 miles away, just to show his assistants that he could do it.
And maybe that's the ultimate solution – to send the network guys to Popovich to try and tell him what to do with his team. There'd be blood on the moon, a shower of severed limbs, tattered pocket squares, and the ratings would top an all-X-Men Super Bowl.
And who wouldn't want that as a prelude to the apocalypse, especially if the big networks could televise it? They'd get their money back, they can always find new executives, and everyone goes home -- happy-ish.