LOS ANGELES -- With the topic of NBA players sitting out games for rest in the public spotlight after league commissioner Adam Silver issued a memo to all 30 teams about the problem, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James says that all rest is not created equal.
More to the point, James said that when he sits out a game -- as he did, along with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, in the Cavs' 108-78 loss to the LA Clippers over the weekend -- it is viewed differently than when just about any other player in the NBA does the same.
"I just know the conversation gets a little bit more talked about when I'm a part of it," James said before the Cavs practiced Tuesday on UCLA's campus. "If it's somebody else, it gets blown up a briefly, it gets talked about a little bit, but it doesn't have legs and it's gone. But as soon as I'm involved it's just a whole different situation."
When Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was asked whether James' actions are judged differently, he responded, "You know that."
James has played in 63 of the Cavs' 69 games this season, sitting out five games for rest and one because of strep throat. Now in his 14th season and coming off six straight Finals appearances, the 32-year-old James has maintained a high level of play, averaging 26.2 points on 54.3 percent shooting, a career-high 8.4 rebounds and a career-high 8.8 assists per game.
While taking shots on the court before practice started, James wondered aloud whether anybody would mind him sitting if he were averaging only 16 points per game this season instead.
Supporting James' position is the fact that Silver was compelled to reach out to teams after James and his teammates sat out, calling the decision "an extremely significant issue for our league" and threatening "significant penalties" in the future if the practice is continued, as first reported by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, but failed to do so the week before when back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors teammates Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were all held out of Golden State's prime-time Saturday night game against the San Antonio Spurs on ABC.
Silver's memo also called for owners to be more involved in the decision-making process when it comes to holding out their players, according to Shelburne's report, which is a premise James found fault in.
"The owners be what? The owners be in the decision[-making process] of resting players?" an incredulous James asked. "There's owners that are not even around the teams. There's owners that are just owning the team because they just own the team. It's whatever. What does that make any sense of?"
James was sure to smooth out any potential rift between he and Silver, but he reiterated his opinion that the "significant issue for our league" that the commissioner referred to was code for significant issue because of LeBron James.
"Adam is great," James said. "Adam is fantastic. I love what Adam is doing for our league, but I don't see how [increased involvement from ownership would help]. I don't understand why it's become a problem now, because I sit out a couple games?"
When a reporter suggested that it was not just a James issue when it comes to rest, the four-time MVP shot back: "That is the case. It's absolutely the case."
James pointed out that San Antonio's Gregg Popovich normalized the rest tactic years ago and the league tried to stop it through fines in the past -- the Spurs were penalized $250,000 in December 2012 for sending Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home from a road trip and making them unavailable for San Antonio's game against James' then-team, the Miami Heat -- but that did not change anything. Since that fine, the Spurs have continued to periodically rest players and have made two NBA Finals and won a championship in that time.
"You guys know the real," James said. "Listen, Pop's been doing this for 10 years, 12 years, 15 years and everybody was like, 'You know what? That's the smartest thing Pop has ever done. Give his guys a couple games off and here they go and win five championships. That's the smartest thing.' But some of our coaches in our league don't have the stature that Pop has and our head coach doesn't have it, so he gets killed for it. So I got to keep winning to help my coach be able to have a reason why he can sit his players."
On Tuesday, Popovich said he understands the league's perspective but seems content to continue resting his players as he sees fit.
"I would do the same thing if I was in [Silver's] shoes. But I think that just because we're coaches and GMs doesn't mean we don't understand or know what's going on with the business side," Popovich said.
"We have definitely added years to people. So it's a trade-off," the Spurs coach explained. "You want to see this guy in this one game? Or do you want to see him for three more years in his career? And do you want to see him in the playoffs because he didn't get hurt because maybe he got rest and he was playing so much."
James later joked that maybe he had to win two or three more championships with Lue so his coach would have the respect to make a rest decision for his players as Popovich does. Lue responded by saying, "I'm still new to this; I've only coached 95 games!"
It's hard to imagine the rest issue disappearing over the final month of the regular season, as playoff-bound teams will be mapping out spots in the schedule in the coming weeks to pull their best players in order to save their legs for the postseason.
The Cavs' next few games are particularly taxing, as they travel to the high altitude in Denver for a game Wednesday, followed by a back-to-back on Friday in Charlotte and then back home in Cleveland on Saturday against the Washington Wizards and then finish the flurry with a road game in San Antonio on Monday.
When asked how he would manage his players in Cleveland's upcoming stretch, Lue said, "I don't know. Call the owner." Several Cavs team sources suggested to ESPN that the league policing rest could cause teams to resurrect an old practice in which they would invent an injury for one of their players to use as cover when his body simply required a night off.
"I've played through injuries my whole career," James added. "So I deserve to get a game [off] every now and then."