When the NBA's board of governors met on Wednesday, it adopted new rules regarding the resting of healthy players in an attempt to curb the load management issues that have become frequent in the league in recent years, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
The NBA's competition committee recommended a plan that would ultimately give the league office authority for greater oversight over discipline for missed games and an ability to fine teams over $1 million for each instance of violating resting rules, sources said.
As the league negotiates a new national television rights deal (the current one runs through the 2024-25 season), NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been determined to increase player participation. So what does this mean for the league, the players and the fans? Will this mean LeBron James won't be affected because he's older than 35? Would the Boston Celtics be able to sit both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in consecutive games? We're answering the big questions.
The NBA first implemented a player resting policy (PRP) entering the 2017-18 season. Since 2017, teams have been prohibited from resting healthy players for any high-profile and nationally televised game. If a team violated this policy, it would result in a fine of at least $100,000. Also included in the PRP were rules that prohibited teams from resting multiple players or resting players for away games.
Those rules will now be replaced with a more stringent player participation policy (PPP) that will go into effect at the start of the 2023-24 season.
Under the policy that is expected to be approved Wednesday, teams must comply with the below rules when deciding to rest a star player (defined as one who has been an All-Star or on an All-NBA team in any of the previous three seasons).
1. No more than one star player is unavailable for the same game
As an example, a team like the Boston Celtics would have to ensure that either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum is available for each game. Unless both players are determined to be injured, the Celtics would not be allowed to rest both players in the same game. While Brown missed 15 games last season and Tatum missed eight, they were both out for the same game just twice (one of which was the regular-season finale).
2. Teams must ensure that star players are available for national TV and in-season tournament games.
As an example, the Phoenix Suns host the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 21 and then host the Golden State Warriors the following night on ESPN. Devin Booker would not be allowed to sit out the Warriors game for rest because it is on national television.
3. Teams must maintain a balance between the number of one-game absences for a star player in home games and road games -- with a preference for those absences to happen in home games.
Last season, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all played in a home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 5, then all three were rested for a road loss to the Utah Jazz two nights later. Under the new rules, Golden State would have been investigated and likely fined in this case.
4. Teams must refrain from any long-term shutdown -- or near shutdown -- when a star player stops participating in games or plays in a materially reduced role in circumstances affecting the integrity of the game.
The Washington Wizards shut down Bradley Beal for the last 10 games last season with what the team called knee soreness. Under the new rule, Washington would have been investigated by the NBA for potentially violating the resting policy. The same would have been the case with Damian Lillard, who sat out the Blazers' final 11 games with right calf soreness, when the team was already out of playoff contention.
5. Teams must ensure that healthy players resting for a game are present and visible to fans.
This is not new and was included in the 2017 PRP.
If a team violates any of the above rules, it is subject to a fine of $100,000 for the first violation, $250,000 for the second violation and $1.25 million for a third violation. A team will be fined $1 million more than its previous penalty for any violations beyond the third.
In the memo ESPN obtained outlining the PPP, the NBA outlined several key objectives explaining why it believes new rules are warranted.
While the NBA admitted that there has been a significant decline in games missed due to health under the PRP, there has been a significant increase in players not playing due to load management, injury management, soreness or other one-game injury absences that are likely for rest.
The PPP hopes to achieve five key objectives:
Achieve greater player participation in the NBA's full 82-game regular season
Minimize multiple star player absences in the same game
Prioritize national television and in-season tournament games
Improve fan and public perception
Promote compliance via bright-line rules and higher penalties
The league believes it is critical for star players to be on the court, especially in national television games.
There is also a transparency factor as it relates to gambling. Per sources, the NBA is projected to receive $167 million in revenue from casinos and betting, an 11% increase from last season.
3. What other steps has the NBA taken to prevent teams from resting healthy players?
Besides the PRP, the NBA recently introduced a minimum games played requirement for players to be eligible for certain league honors.
In order to be eligible for MVP, an All-NBA team, Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Defensive team or Most Improved Player honors, a player must satisfy at least one of the following two criteria:
The player played in at least 65 regular-season games
The player played in at least 62 regular-season games, suffered a season-ending injury and played in at least 85% of the regular-season games played by his team prior to the player suffering said injury
A player will be considered to have played in a regular-season game if he played at least 20 minutes of such game -- though he can count two games in which he fell short of 20 minutes toward the 65 if he played at least 15 minutes. The minutes requirement was added to avoid situations like when Jrue Holiday played seven seconds in the 2021-22 season finale to secure a contract bonus.
Charles Barkley says commissioner Adam Silver has gone too far protecting players in the NBA.
In total 25 teams and 50 players (nearly 11% of the league) are impacted by the new rules. Fifteen teams have multiple players who were named All-NBA or to the All-Star Game in the previous three seasons.
If the rule had been in effect during the 2022-23 season, 46 players would have been impacted.
Based on the NBA's definition, here are the players who qualify as "stars" under the new rules: Trae Young (Atlanta), Dejounte Murray (Atlanta), Ben Simmons (Brooklyn), Jayson Tatum (Boston), Jaylen Brown (Boston), LaMelo Ball (Charlotte), DeMar DeRozan (Chicago), Zach LaVine (Chicago), Nikola Vucevic (Chicago), Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland), Jarrett Allen (Cleveland), Darius Garland (Cleveland), Luka Doncic (Dallas), Kyrie Irving (Dallas), Nikola Jokic (Denver), Stephen Curry (Golden State), Draymond Green (Golden State), Andrew Wiggins (Golden State), Chris Paul (Golden State), Fred VanVleet (Houston), Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana), Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers), Paul George (LA Clippers), LeBron James (LA Lakers), Anthony Davis (LA Lakers), Ja Morant (Memphis), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis), Jimmy Butler (Miami), Bam Adebayo (Miami), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee), Rudy Gobert (Minnesota), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota), Mike Conley (Minnesota), Anthony Edwards (Minnesota), Zion Williamson (New Orleans), Julius Randle (New York), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), James Harden (Philadelphia), Bradley Beal (Phoenix), Devin Booker (Phoenix), Kevin Durant (Phoenix), Damian Lillard (Portland), Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento), De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento), Pascal Siakam (Toronto) and Lauri Markkanen (Utah).
5. Will this list change after the 2024 All-Star Game?
In the PPP memo, the star criteria include players who are selected to the All-Star Game during that season. For example, Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey has not yet made an All-Star team, so he's not currently classified as a star. However, if he were to be selected to the All-Star Game in February, he would move into "star" designation -- which would then prevent him from being rested when healthy under the new rules, such as on Feb. 23, when the 76ers host the Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back on ESPN.
On paper the new PPP rules look strict, but the NBA has detailed several exceptions by which a team can seek approval for a star player to miss a back-to-back game (including national television appearances or in-season tournament games).
The NBA will allow pre-approved designated back-to-back allowances for players who are 35 years old on opening night or have career workloads of 34,000 regular-season minutes or 1,000 regular-season and playoff games combined, sources said.
If a team feels that a star player is unable to play in back-to-back games, it must provide to the NBA written information at least one week prior explaining why the player's participation should be limited.
The star players who fall under this category include Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan and James Harden.
For example, the Lakers sat Anthony Davis and LeBron James in a Jan. 30 game last season at Brooklyn. The two would play the next night in New York. Under the PPP, the Lakers could have sought approval for James to miss the Nets game because he has played at least 34,000 regular-season minutes. However, under the new rules, Davis would not have been allowed to sit out the Brooklyn game if James received permission to miss the game. Davis also would not have been allowed to sit out the Knicks game because it was on national television.
The league has also said that a team can seek approval for a star player to be unavailable for one end of a back-to-back based on the player's prior or unusual injury history.
In this circumstance, the Clippers could apply to have Kawhi Leonard sit out Oct. 31 against the Orlando Magic, the night before the Clippers play the Lakers on ESPN. Leonard had surgery in the offseason after he tore his left knee meniscus in the playoffs.
Any league-approved back-to-back restriction will not apply to national television or in-season tournament games unless the other game in the back-to-back is also a national television or in-season tournament game.
The league has also listed several other exceptions that will be granted, including:
Multigame absences for bona fide injury
Rare and unusual circumstances
Roster management of unavailable star players
In this scenario, the Celtics could have asked the league for permission to rest Brown and Tatum for the aforementioned season finale against the Wizards.
7. What about Victor Wembanyama? Is there anything in these rules that will limit how often the San Antonio Spurs can rest him?
Ironically, San Antonio and Wembanyama are not impacted by the NBA team rest policy nor the 65-game criteria that determines if a player is eligible for league honors.
Under the memo obtained by ESPN, a "star" player is defined by a player who has made the All-Star or All-NBA teams in any of the three previous seasons. Despite his star appeal, Wembanyama does not fall in this category because he is a rookie, although he would meet the criteria in February if selected to the All-Star Game.
Wembanyama is also eligible to be named Rookie of the Year even if he falls short of the 65-game requirement that was added in the new collective bargaining agreement. A player who fails to play in 65 games during the regular season is ineligible for five awards, but All-Rookie and Rookie of the Year are not included.
The Spurs are slated to play 18 games on national television this season.
8. If these rules had been in place last season, which teams and players would have been affected?
If the rules had been implemented before the 2022-23 season, 46 players would have been designated as stars.
Some examples in which teams might have been in violation of the new rules:
The Nets rested their entire starting lineup, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, in a Dec. 10 game at Indiana. Despite a depleted roster, Brooklyn would eventually go on to win.
Under the new policy, Durant would have been excused because he met the minutes criteria.
The Clippers sat both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in one end of several back-to-backs, including Jan. 29, at Cleveland. While they might have been able to get approval for Leonard's absence, sitting George in conjunction with Leonard would not have been allowed.
The 76ers rested Joel Embiid and James Harden on Jan. 21, in the last game of a road trip at Portland. Philadelphia was not coming off a back-to-back and was not scheduled to play again until Jan. 25, at home against Brooklyn.
All of these incidents would have been investigated by the NBA, likely triggering a fine.
The Bulls rested both DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine in an April 7 win at the Dallas Mavericks. However, because they had already clinched a play-in spot, Chicago likely would not have been fined with both players sitting out.
The NBA still has the discretion to fine a team for conduct detrimental to the league as it relates to resting players.
The Mavericks were fined $750K by the NBA after they sat several players, including All-Star Kyrie Irving, in that same April 7 game against Chicago. Luka Doncic played the first 12 minutes, 35 seconds before sitting out the rest of the game (as well as the entire season finale). The loss to the Bulls eliminated the Mavericks from play-in contention.
9. What's stopping teams from listing players as hurt to avoid the perception that they're resting healthy players?
It is important to note that the resting policy pertains to players who are healthy.
Under the 2022-23 NBA Operations Manual, it was left to the team physician's medical opinion to determine if a player is injured and cannot play for one or more games.
The league did have jurisdiction to review the team's determination that the player is not healthy for the purposes of the resting policy.
Under the PPP, team physicians will continue to determine if a player is injured, but to promote compliance with this new policy, the league has the right to investigate, including an independent medical review to determine the player's availability.
An automatic league office investigation is triggered if the star player misses one or more games involving the below circumstances:
Star player misses national TV or in-season tournament game
Multiple star teammates miss same game
Inconsistent statements contradicting player status
Back in 2019, the Clippers were fined $50,000 under this "inconsistent statement" provision, when then-coach Doc Rivers said Leonard felt great despite being rested on the front end of a back-to-back.
The league also has the discretion to investigate based on the following:
Pattern of one-game road absences for star player
Long-term shutdown affecting integrity of game
Unusual, atypical, or other circumstances
ESPN talked to representatives of multiple teams, and while they said they understand the need for star players to be available for national television games and not sitting back-to-back games for rest, there are valid concerns.
The main concern comes from what happens when a team determines that a star player is healthy enough to play in a back-to-back game but that player determines he is sore and needs rest. Because the PPP is not a collectively bargained rule, the team, not the player, will get fined if the rule is violated.
The other concern is that the PPP might contradict a team's use of sports science to monitor the workload of its players.
As one team told ESPN, what happens if two star players play 45 minutes in an overtime game on the first night of a back-to-back? The data says that the players should be given the next game off for rest, but by the rules of the PPP, both are required to play because there is no injury.
11. Why is the NBA unwilling to address the actual problem, which is that the regular season is too long?
It is all about money.
The NBA is projecting $5.7 billion in revenue in 2023-24, and reducing games would almost certainly result in a loss in revenue. That would impact players and their salaries, considering that gate receipts, broadcast rights, parking, sponsorships, etc. all go toward basketball related income (BRI). A percentage of BRI (44.7%) is used to determine the salary cap.
Any change in the length in the regular season is something that would have to be collectively bargained between the NBA and the players' association, and that gained little-to-no momentum in the most recent CBA negotiations. The NBA's new CBA took effect in July and runs through June 30, 2029.
The new PPP, however, does not need to be collectively bargained, because the financial penalties are applied to the teams, not the players.