The NBA has battled against its star players missing too many games while healthy for years.
Analytics call it load management and the stats bear witness to the positive effect it has, but the NBA is battling a perception problem with its general fanbase at a time when the average NBA ticket, per SeatGeek, is $94.
When fans shell out that kind of money and then see the players they came to watch on the end of the bench as a healthy scratch, it has potential long-term effects.
The NBA is trying to curb this as it negotiates a new national television rights deal with the current one coming to an end soon.
NBA load management is a strategy used by teams to reduce the risk of injuries to their star players. This can be done by resting players on certain nights, reducing their minutes, or giving them lighter workloads in practice.
The league’s new player participation policy (PPP), which comes into effect this season, impacts players who were either an All-Star or on an All-NBA team the past three seasons.
Teams must make sure that no more than one star player is unavailable for the same game, and they must ensure that players are available for national TV and in-season tournament games.
Teams must also balance the number of home games and road games that a star player sits out, and the league is pressing teams to focus more of those absences on home games.
Teams must also refrain from long-term shutdowns of star players who are healthy, especially at the end of the regular season after teams have been eliminated from the playoffs. And, when star players are healthy scratches, teams must make sure that they are present at games and visible to fans.
Right now, the penalties are purely financial.
If a team is proven to have violated any of the PPP rules, the first violation brings with it a $100,000 fine, a $250,000 fine for the second violation and $1.25million for the third violation, with a team fined $1million more than the latest violation depending on how many violations it commits.
Teams are the only ones hit with penalties, not players.
For players, previous rules implementations were put in place meant to deter sitting out games, mainly postseason awards.
For a player to be eligible for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player or to be named to an All-NBA team or an All-Defensive team, they have to play a minimum of 65 games, with some subtle exceptions allowed.
Considering countless NBA players have contract provisions tied to performance and awards, this games-played requirement is meant to be as strong a deterrent as possible without ruffling too many feathers.
Yes, like many jobs, there are a few perks for employees who have worked here longer.
For NBA players who will be 35 years or older on opening night (October 24), or who have logged 34,000 regular-season minutes or 1,000 regular season and playoff games combined, are allowed pre-approved designated back-to-back allowances.
Think of it as PTO and your employer approves your request in advance. Only seven star players currently qualify for this exemption - LeBron James, Chris Paul, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Mike Conley and DeMar DeRozan.
The NBA’s league office wants more participation from star players in the full 82-game season, a schedule under increased scrutiny because the easiest solution to load management would be a shorter season, but everyone wants more money and those two ideals don’t go hand-in-hand.
By imposing more stringent penalties, the NBA is also trying to improve its perception to its fans and the general public at a time when there is healthy debate over the league’s ratings on both sides.
And, as legalized sports betting is exploding in the United States, the NBA wants to publicly justify the millions in revenue it gets from that trade.
In a sports age where analytics is becoming more and more dominant, it is now easily proven that when a team implements load management all players typically perform at peak levels throughout the regular season and playoffs.
It may annoy people, but wins and championships still matter most to fans, while money matters most to franchises and load management can impact both when applied properly.