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NBA Beat: Resting star players when they’re healthy triggers debate

Golden State’s Stephen Curry enjoys a night off March 13 at Denver. Coach Steve Kerr was criticized for resting his players.
Golden State’s Stephen Curry enjoys a night off March 13 at Denver. Coach Steve Kerr was criticized for resting his players. The Associated Press

Imagine being a paying customer who has waited to see one of his favorite NBA players, only to learn he’s sitting out. Not for injury, but to rest.

Or put yourself in the position of a coach, who sees one of his best players fatigued and has a chance to sit him in a game his team doesn’t have to win because its division lead is comfortable.

There doesn’t seem to be a solution to the rest debate. More teams are inclined to rest healthy stars, angering fans and peers alike.

Some argue this practice robs the fans who pay to see players perform. Others assert it can unfairly affect the standings.

But teams have found giving their players a night off, when healthy, to be beneficial. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has done this for some time, but he seemed to draw less scrutiny because he has an older team.

Recently, Golden State coach Steve Kerr received criticism for sitting healthy stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, among others, in a game at Denver.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it’s team-by-team based,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ve done it in the past. I haven’t done it this year, doesn’t mean I will not. I think it’s an individual thing.”

It’s reasonable for fans to expect a professional athlete to be able to perform when healthy. After all, those million-dollar salaries are paid because it’s a job, not a recreational game on the weekend.

But coaches and teams look out for their players’ best interests and seem to find like in any profession, a day off is a good thing.

“I think every team has their own issues, and they know when a guy should be out and a guy shouldn’t be out,” Rivers said. “I think some teams earned rest by their record. When you earn it, you have more luxury to be able to do it. Some teams do it because they believe in it from the start.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about tweaking the NBA schedule to give players a break with fewer back-to-back games.

Silver said the goal also would be to eliminate the four-games-in-five-nights scenarios teams often dread.

That’s part of the evolution of thinking in the NBA. It’s a change from Rivers’ playing days when long practices were the norm.

“We were practicing three hours and playing, but we were just dumb enough to not know,” Rivers said.

Rivers added with a laugh, “If someone had educated us a little more about what we were doing, I would have been playing 40 games a year.”

So barring changes to the schedule with more built-in breaks, teams will continue to rest players as needed.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Rivers said.

“There’s better science now, and I’m sure there’s a lot of positives,” Rivers said. “I think at the end of the day it has to be a better way than what we did. I don’t know that, but it must be because everyone is doing it.”

Trending up

In retrospect, Utah’s trade of Enes Kanter to give Rudy Gobert more playing time was an easy call.

Over the last month, no young big man has been quite as impressive as the second-year center from France, who is averaging 9.8 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 15 games since the All-Star break. In March, Gobert is averaging 16.2 rebounds through 10 games.

The Jazz has been one of the best teams over the last month, and Gobert’s play is a reason. He has jumped into the race for the Most Improved Player award, which seemed a lock for Chicago’s Jimmy Butler.

Trending down

Some deals work well, but for Milwaukee, its big one at the trade deadline has not produced the desired results.

The Bucks have lost five in a row and dipped below .500 at 34-35.

Milwaukee is still finding its way since acquiring Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia and sending its All-Star candidate, Brandon Knight, to Phoenix.

Complicating the transition has been the absence of key players Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo, who have missed time lately because of injuries.

The Bucks won only 15 games last season, so in many ways this season already has been a success.

But if Milwaukee fails to get back on track soon, 2014-15 will be remembered more for a disappointing ending.

Last words

“We didn’t respect the game. We didn’t respect our opponent. It was a pathetic performance. I hope that every player is embarrassed, not because we’re ‘supposed to win the game,’ but it’s about how you play the game.”

Popovich after his team lost to New York, which has the league’s worst record.

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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