Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Updated: December 5, 9:29 AM ET
East Side: Shorter season won't help

By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com

J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez are teaming up this season for a look at the NBA from two perspectives, called West Side/East Side. Today's edition looks at the length of the NBA season.


The one question that lingered long after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made the $250,000 decision to send four of his players home instead of playing in Miami was this:

What was his point?

Clearly, this was about more than resting his players, because he has done that in the past without the dramatics of sending his players home before the game. So what was his intended message?

The schedule is too tough? The season is just too long?

If it's a shorter season Popovich, or anyone else, wants, it's a hopeless argument. It's not necessary. And it's not even all that beneficial.

If you're talking about shortening the NBA season from 82 games, financial concerns would limit even the suggestion to, maybe, six fewer (don't be fooled by the idea that last season's 66-game schedule was an ideal situation for the NBA, because it'll never happen).

So let's say shortening the season by four games is what's being pitched here. Well, no team would consider that idea especially helpful.

Because they spurred this debate (what the heck, pun intended), let's stick with the San Antonio angle for a moment.

Granted, the Spurs are in a unique situation where all three of their best players are 30 or older. But that doesn't require Popovich to go to the extreme that he did to make an 82-game season manageable. There are plenty of subtler, more strategic ways to find four or even twice as many games worth of rest for his key players, without potentially giving away wins in the process. He could rest them individually and not en masse. He could simply bring them to a game but not dress them. It would avoid the fine and controversy.

Moreover, a 78-game schedule isn't going to provide enough additional rest opportunities to keep a similar situation from happening for a team like the Spurs. It would still be a six-month regular season with enough games and practices to fatigue guys.

But even in the larger scope, a slightly shorter season doesn't do much but take money out of the pockets of owners and give residents of NBA cities fewer opportunities to enjoy an NBA game.

These days, on average, an NBA team makes roughly $2 million per home game when you include gate, concessions and TV dollars (of course, the larger markets drive up that average, but it remains a significant amount for the smallest of markets). Good luck convincing owners, some of whom claim to lose money on their teams already, that they should give up a couple of home games each.

And for what benefit? Theoretically, to lengthen to the career of those star players who bring in the dollars?

That has to be the only worthy argument for it, right? Because if you go smaller picture and suggest quality of games will be better, or that playoff teams will be slightly healthier for the duration of the postseason, that's not nearly enough incentive to give up even a portion of that kind of money.

Fewer games a season isn't extending very many careers. As it is, players are finding ways to play for more years now -- and at a high level -- more than they did back in the day.

Just look at the list of the oldest players to play in the league, and 14 of the 18 oldest all have played within the past 15 years.

Look around the league right now and you'll find guys playing at advanced professional ages, all defying the idea that an 82-game schedule and the additional playoff games that have been tacked on have shortened careers.

There's Ray Allen, at 37, looking as though he can play another five years, at least. There's Kevin Garnett in his 18th season with plenty of playoff games under his belt. Heck, half the Knicks' roster proves it.

This isn't football, where injuries relegate most careers to less than a half-decade, or where concussions are so prevalent that there are serious long-term health concerns. This is the NBA, where players have, for some time now, been going through significant measures to maintain their fitness throughout the offseason so there is no setback to start a new season.

The result has been lengthy careers for almost anyone who wants to commit the effort and time. Ask those players, and they'll tell you the reward for that hard work is the actual games, not the off days.

Besides, if you take away only a few games, those game days probably will be replaced by team practices that would be just as, if not more, taxing on their bodies. Wasn't that always the issue with Pat Riley teams through most of his coaching career, that the games were vacations compared to the practices?

Sure, some players or coaches occasionally whine about back-to-back situations, or four games in five nights, or even a road-heavy, 15-game month. But what else do players say quite regularly? That the best thing about the NBA is there's another game just around the corner, maybe even the next day.

Taking away a few of those games wouldn't help the Spurs or any other team very much. It would just cost them money.

Actually, the Spurs can make back at least twice what they were fined by … wait for it … playing one more game (at home, of course).

Isn't that ironic?