Hit 'em where it hurts.
That seems to be the idea behind an idea first reported by The Athletic that would go after the overabundance of load management by tying NBA awards to games played for the players striving to win them.
Though short on details, the notion centers on making a number of appearances a key factor for the big honors handed out each season.
Load management has, clearly, gone too far. Fans missing out on seeing stars, over and over, for rest disguised as injuries. There are too many instances to list.
The NBA has a real problem here. This idea, floated in the media, nebulous in its details though it may be, has a ring of potential to it.
Yet in conversations with decision makers around the league, the idea of using awards to force players to play more games had two common responses: It's a great idea. And fat chance it works -- or even happens.
"Something tells me players at the end of the day will not really care," one executive told CBS Sports.
"NBPA will never allow it because too many players' contracts are affected by those postseason awards, and agents use those awards to establish comps and value during contract negotiations," another exec added.
All true. And that's all the more reason why severe action is necessary from a league that has done a great job cultivating a reasonable relationship with the players union, and fostering a strong sense of mutual respect between the commissioner of the association and its stars.
Those two facts give the NBA some political capital. Time to spend it.
The league should make combatting load management a priority, fight tooth and nail to make it a reality, and do so in the most extreme ways possible.
The NBA is in fine shape as a product. It is brimming with young stars rising up as LeBron James set the all-time scoring record 20 years into an incredible career. Nikola Jokic is trying to become the first three-peat MVP since Larry Bird in the mid-'80s. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard look to cement their legacies. Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum and Joel Embiid are all out to win their first title, and Kevin Durant joins yet another superteam -- and makes the Suns, now, a must-watch team.
But must-watch games only work if the best players play in said games. Fair or not, this falls on the stars in a sport that also serves as an entertainment business for it to properly and optimally function. If availability is the best ability, and the best business plan, it's time to start tying the game's rewards to that fact.
Let's start with the Most Valuable Player award.
Only one player has ever won an MVP during an 82-game regular season without playing at least 71 games -- Bill Walton, who played 58 games way back in the 1977-78 season. Of the past 52 NBA regular seasons that featured 82 games, 35 MVPs played in at least 80 of them.
Now, you might be thinking that that 35 of 52 figure may sound decent, even respectable, but take a deeper dive into the numbers. In the '70s, Walton was the only MVP to play fewer than 80 games, which means that 90 percent of the award winners did play 80 contests. In the '80s the percentage dipped to 70 percent. Fast forward to the past 10 82-game seasons, and you'll see that only four MVPs reached 80 games.
So stars appearing in games is an issue, but as some NBA folks pointed out after The Athletic's report, it's probably also important to tie minutes to this threshold as well as games.
"What prevents a player from playing two minutes in a game they would otherwise load manage, and then [sit]?," posed one advisor to a Western Conference team.
There's the concern that, if this were to happen, players won't care enough to change their habits. Which is why the NBA should push this idea to the limit.
A 70-game threshold seems fair, and it addresses a legit problem. The Western Conference team adviser also suggested a 30-minute minimum per game as well. Again, feels right.
By this standard, this season's MVP race would narrow to just two players -- Jokic and Tatum. The rest of the group in the hunt for the honor this season are on pace for too few games, both by historical standards for an MVP and by the better-business practices the league and its players should support.
Embiid has played 44 of the Sixers' 56 games, leaving him on pace to play in 64 games this season. Giannis is on track for 66 of the Bucks' regular-season games. Doncic will appear in 68 games for the Mavericks at his current rate.
That's absurdly too few games for players of that caliber, at least those being bandied about as potential MVP winners. And the race for this particular award isn't the only way to incentivize guys to get on the floor.
You can add Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year. All of them. But go further. Tie All-NBA first, second and third teams to this as well. Make sure players who want to be on the NBA's All-Rookie and All-Defensive teams carry their weight in games played too.
Getting buy-in from the players association, agents and others incentivized to keep the status quo won't be easy. But some fights are worth having, as much for the league as for its players. They split the revenue the league produces, and this notion, though unpopular, would nonetheless be good business for everyone.
The NBA is a stars league. And without them on the floor as often as possible, everyone gets diminished. So with All-Star weekend upon us, and as the league and the NBPA eye a new CBA and all the particulars that will entail, its incumbent on Adam Silver to turn this trial balloon his office seemed to send up into a hard, cold reality.