The Cleveland Cavaliers got thrown into the spotlight yet again, but not for their play or their record this time. Head Coach Tyronn Lue makes a multitude of important decisions every day pertaining to keeping the Cavs as a top team in the NBA. His decision last week rocked the sports world. He announced that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love would not travel to Memphis for the second game of a home and home with the Grizzlies. Lue made the decision to rest his stars because if you remember, they are perennial championship contenders with the best player in the league on the roster. A Wednesday night game in the middle of December means nothing in the grand scheme of things in an 82 game regular season.
Back-to-backs and home-and-homes are tough on an NBA body. They just are. The NBA has done away with the even more treacherous 4 in 5 or 4 in 6 game scenarios and we should thank them. That removes a portion of the stress of coaches who wanted to give stars and rotational players rest during such stretches. Plus, it led to fewer injuries. Fewer injuries, happier players, happier agents, and happier organizations.
I get the hot-take issue that fans in certain cities only get one chance to see the biggest stars in league, and that it may be the only game they can afford to go to during the season, but, it is not the visiting team’s prerogative to play the stars when they have the bigger picture in mind. Here is a possible solution. In certain scenarios, I do believe that in a home-and-home with a team from the opposing conference, stars could sit their own home game rather than the game in the opponent’s arena. The star player still gets his game off, and the opposing crowd (in this case, Memphis) is happy. With that said, it is not any of our choice to make that call. It is the coach and, in most cases, the player making the decision of how to help the star’s body rest.
One sports talk co-host made their point by saying that using chartered flights and staying at top of the line hotels should keep these players fresh enough to play. It is not a great take. Overall though, having these amenities help the players but they do not necessarily translate into quick recovery for athletes. The key to recovering from an NBA game is in fact, you guessed it, rest.
Others mentioned that players should still travel and play around five minutes. That is the worst claim/take of them all. Why would you play a star player for five minutes in order to get the crowd to see them play? It is preposterous to have a player get loose just to break a sweat and sit for the rest of the ball game. The player would not be in his typical ‘game mode’ mentally which could hinder his performance or cause injury. Don’t give the excuse of player’s worrying about their statistics after playing five minutes. Stats matter in some prominent areas such as season awards and sometimes in contract negotiations but, when was the last time a star player got less money or hurt his value because he averaged 23.8 points instead of 22.6? Stars need rest if you want to be contenders and not pretenders. In December, it makes no sense whatsoever to play stars in every game. We all know that the less wear and tear on a body now will lead to having more tread on the tire come playoff time.
The Cavaliers are not competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are not competing to have a home playoff series. They are not competing for the number one seed in the East. The Cavs are undoubtedly the best team in their conference and will skate easily into the Finals, even with LeBron finishing the season playing 70 games (and that is on the low end). In James’ career, he has never played a full 82-game schedule. Other than his injury during the 2011–2012 campaign that limited him to 62 games, LeBron has played in at least 69 games, while averaging a minimum of 35.6 minutes per contest for his entire career. James is in such great shape that he could play 80 games at 38-plus minutes per night. How is that beneficial to the Cavaliers? It isn’t. If James and Irving play 70–72 games, that would roughly equate to an additional two weeks of rest. Those fourteen days will help keep them healthier over the entire season.
Would someone rather see LeBron in a meaningless December game strain his groin (which most likely would linger through the playoffs) or would you rather see LeBron at nearly one-hundred percent for the Cavaliers playoff run? As a fan of the NBA, I want to see LeBron ready to roll in the playoffs, as would most die-hard NBA fans. “But Johnny, LeBron could get hurt any night so why does he have to take nights off against Western Conference teams?” To that I say, yes, injuries are a part of a game. They can happen to anyone at anytime and no one is exempt from the injury bug. There is no issue giving a player an extra day to rest his sore calf, so why is there an issue giving a player an extra day to rest his mind? Mental days off would actually be more helpful to the athlete.
Do not doubt it for a minute, I want LeBron to prove super teams like the Warriors can not be given the crown before a season starts. For the Cavaliers to have their best chance of winning in June, sitting their stars in games in December are worth it. As a matter of fact, games up through the All-Star Weekend are meaningless for top teams in the league. Sitting stars hurt the television product, but I for one would rather see LeBron have a healthy shot entering the playoffs (which helps the television ratings). The Cavaliers and Tyronn Lue are working towards creating the three-peat match-up in the Finals that we all want to see. Sit your stars Ty Lue, sit your stars in December and get ready to compete in June.
***This post originally appeared on John Amoroso’s Medium page on December 20, 2016***