Rod Walker: NBA owes it to its fans to find a remedy for load management issues | Pelicans

J.T. Usher sat on the row directly behind the Golden State Warriors’ bench wearing his Steph Curry jersey Friday night.

Unfortunately for Usher, Curry wasn’t wearing his.

The two-time Most Valuable Player was wearing regular clothes. So were his teammates Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, all starters on a typical night for the Warriors.

It was the latest reminder of how load management in the NBA is more like a load of (insert colorful word here).

This was the second game in back-to-back days for the Warriors, who lost to the Orlando Magic on Thursday. This was also the fourth game on their road trip, which is why Steve Kerr decided to sit the four starters who collectively have appeared in 18 All-Star Games and account for an average of 72.3 points per game.

“I apologize to any fans out there who were hoping to see those guys and aren’t going to,” Kerr said before the game. “Again, we are just trying to think of the big picture.”

The big picture for the Warriors and the other 29 teams in the NBA is to be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June, just like the Warriors did five months ago. For them, the NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s why this whole resting starters thing — something the San Antonio Spurs first made fashionable — became a thing.

But to the fans, it’s not about the big picture. It’s about the snapshot, the rare opportunity for some to see the stars they idolize on TV.

Yes, I understand that Pelicans’ fans come to games to see their own team. And the Pelicans have a quality product on the floor every night now, so it really shouldn’t matter who is on the other team.  

But let’s be real.

The NBA is a star-driven league, and for many casual fans, the opponent is just as important as the home team. There are many basketball fans who determine which game they are going to attend based on who the opponent is. For many, this is their kid’s one shot to see the players they idolize.

For Usher, who was celebrating his 13th birthday Friday night, this was his third trip from Gulfport, Mississippi, to the Smoothie King Center to see Curry. The third time wasn’t the charm. His father, Butch, spent $2,800 on the secondary market for the two tickets for him and his son, but he didn’t get to see his favorite player play.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has talked in the past about his concerns with teams resting players. His most recent comments were in July.

“There’s nothing more frustrating also for our fans than having players, frankly, who aren’t injured following some program schedule for rest,” Silver said.

But it’s time for the league to put some action behind it. The NBA has taken a few steps with the scheduling, such as decreasing the number of games that teams play on consecutive nights. But more needs to be done.

Kerr admits sitting his starters isn’t always an easy decision, especially considering his team is one of the biggest draws in the NBA.

“I think about it all the time,” Kerr said. “People spending good money to see a team and then someone doesn’t play. That’s not something I’m ignorant to. We’ve had a lot of discussions with fans over the years who have been in that situation.

“But ultimately, the players’ health is the No. 1 factor in our team’s success and even in our fans’ satisfaction in the long run because we want to keep guys healthy throughout the season.”

So fans such as Tequilla Duhone and her son Tahj Jones will continue to be disappointed. They had been anticipating this game since August when the NBA released its schedule. They didn’t find out Curry and his teammates weren’t playing until they were in line at the Smoothie King Center. When 9-year-old Tahj found out, he wanted to go to the car and switch from his Curry jersey to his Zion Williamson jersey.

“We were mad as hell,” Duhone said.

They had every right to be.

Fans shouldn’t have to check the NBA schedule for back-to-back games, but they probably should. 

The Pelicans are in the midst of their first back-to-back games of the season. They will fly to Atlanta after Friday night’s game to play the Hawks on Saturday.

Pelicans coach Willie Green, asked about his thoughts on load management before Friday’s game, had this to say: “To each his own.”

Hopefully the league figures it out soon. Fans deserve better.

Some other possible solutions? The NBA could require players to play in a certain amount of games to get their full salaries. In an 82-game schedule, requiring players to play in at least 65 or 70 games seems fair.

Kerr has another suggestion.

“Ideally, it’s a 65-game season and everybody plays every night,” he said. “But good luck getting that passed.”

The NBA isn’t about to trim its schedule by 17 games and lose all that money generated from TV revenue. 

But if the league doesn’t fix its load management problems, frustrated fans in this star-driven league might just stay home and watch on TV.  

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