O’Boyle: Fans deserve to see top players play
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Imagine you’re a lifelong Cleveland Cavaliers fan, living in Los Angeles. You’ve watched LeBron James carry an otherwise weak Cavaliers team to consistent playoff berths and a finals appearance, leave for Miami, return to Cleveland and eventually carry your team a championship with an all-time great finals performance.
You raise your kids as loyal Cavaliers fans too. They watched the finals with you. They want to grow up to be LeBron.
You check the Cavaliers’ 2016-2017 schedule when it comes out, and notice the team will be in Los Angeles for two games visiting the Clippers and Lakers. After hearing that your friends the Anderson’s got tickets to the game, you decide to save up and get your family tickets to the Clippers-Cavaliers game on March 18. You and your kids can’t wait to finally see LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in person.
Until Tyronn Lue announces the Cavaliers inactives — Love, who had been recovering with an injury, misses out, but you can live with that; but Kyrie is out too, which upsets you and the kids you’ve taught to keep an open mind to flat-eartherism; and worst of all, the greatest basketball player in the world is inactive too. Cleveland’s starting lineup is Deron Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Tristan Thompson. They lose by 30 points, with no player scoring more than 12.
You can’t get any tickets to see the Cavaliers play the Lakers the next day. You’re not sure if you’ll have the time or the money to go to another game when the Cavaliers next come to Los Angeles. You just wasted your money to see a weakened Cavaliers team get blown out.
That’s a situation that may well have occurred for last week’s Cavaliers-Clippers game, when Cleveland rested all of its “Big Three.” That’s not the only time Cleveland has done it this season either, resting the trio for other games such as a trip to Miami earlier this month. And nor are the Cavaliers the only team to do this. When the Warriors met the Spurs on March 11 — in what would normally be one of the most anticipated matchups of the season — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all rested. Combined with Kevin Durant’s absence due to injury, the entire Warriors “Big Four” was missing. Fans instead were able to watch rookie Patrick McCaw go 0-for-12 shooting in a comfortable Spurs win.
It’s hard to blame teams for this. The fact is that the system favors giving stars regular rest. An 82-game regular season just for the right to higher seeding and home court advantage for the playoffs means that coaches are nearly always making the right call by effectively throwing a few near-meaningless games. Last year, the better-rested Cavaliers defeated the greatest regular season team of all time because the Warriors wasted too much energy fighting with the Spurs for the top seed in the West and with the ‘96 Bulls for the all-time record single-season win total. Teams that perform in the regular season but underwhelm in the playoffs are at best forgotten and at worst become the butt of jokes, so it only makes sense to play to the system and let a few regular season games slide.
That may make sense for the coaches at least, but for the fan who scrapes together money for a ticket to see his or her heroes declared inactive, it’s a tough loss. If the system favors letting a team’s main draws sit, then maybe it needs changed. The regular season should be shortened or its games should be better spaced-apart. If fans can’t go to games expect to see a team’s healthy stars, then something isn’t right.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.