The marquee Saturday night nationally televised matchup was a bust again, as the Cleveland Cavaliers rested LeBron James and chose not to play Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love as they continue to rehab from injuries. The three are expected to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers, but missed the Cavs’ 108-78 loss to the Clippers the previous night.
Fans were mad. Broadcasters were mad, as Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy teed off on the decision, calling it a “joke.” Social media reaction was blistering. And apparently, the league office wasn’t happy either. Cavs general manager David Griffin defended the decision to ESPN, but also said that the league office contacted him.
Cleveland general manager David Griffin told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that the league office called him shortly after the team announced its decision Saturday.
“Yeah, they were not happy,” Griffin said.
But the GM also said it isn’t his job to appease the league and its television partners (which include ESPN).
“Yeah, and they’re paying me to win a championship,” he told Shelburne. “I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”
Yeah, no wonder the league wasn’t happy. Outside of ruining its second consecutive marquee matchup on Saturday night, it’s also just a bad look for the league. You need your best players playing when they face one another.
Doc Rivers, coach and president of basketball operations of the Clippers, suggested that the league needs to take action to prevent these situations by making sure the nationally televised games don’t feature teams involved in back to backs. There’s discussion of this being impossible due to the complexity of the schedule, but given all the things that the league makes room for when constructing the schedule, it doesn’t seem that difficult. And the same should go for the nationally televised weekday games, and all other contests that feature marquee opponents. Keep the big games off back to backs.
Next season, the league is scheduled to start earlier, cutting the preseason down, which will reduce back to backs even further.
Commissioner Adam Silver has not fined teams, like his predecessor David Stern chose to with the Spurs when they rested starters for a marquee matchup, but you would expect him to make it clear teams need to avoid this. Ultimately that decision rests with the teams, who are under similar pressure to compete for titles and put all playoff priorities ahead of anything else. Given how upset the players are at missing these games, the reaction of the league, its TV partners, and the fans, you can bet action will be taken to address this.
There’s only so much the league can do, but you can expect them to do what they can, for the sake of the game and their own optics.