NBA commissioner Adam Silver has called the practice of teams resting marquee players "an extremely significant issue for our league" in a memo sent to team owners Monday and obtained by ESPN.
In the memo, Silver informed teams that the issue will be a prime topic of discussion at the next NBA board of governors meeting April 6 in New York and warned of "significant penalties" for teams that don't abide by the league's standing rules for providing "notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest."
He states that it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on "fans and business partners," the reputation of the league and "perception of our game."
After the Cavaliers decided to rest their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for a 108-78 loss to the LA Clippers on Saturday, Cleveland general manager David Griffin said the league office called him shortly after the team announced its decision.
But the GM also said it isn't his job to appease the league and its television partners (which include ESPN).
"They're paying me to win a championship," Griffin told ESPN. "I'm not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don't feel like we did anything terribly egregious."
On Monday, ESPN released a statement about teams resting their star players during nationally televised games.
"As always, our aim is to serve NBA fans with the best matchups involving the league's top stars and we share the fans' disappointment. We understand this is a complex issue and we're working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint," the statement said.
It was the second consecutive week a team that had been to the Finals rested multiple star players in the nationally televised game on ABC. A week earlier, the Golden State Warriors sat Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala for their Western Conference showdown against the San Antonio Spurs.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh that he made his decision as a way to navigate the team's stretch of eight games in eight cities in just 13 days -- including two cross-country flights and 11,000 total miles covered.
Underlying Kerr's frustration was the fact that six of those eight games were nationally televised, meaning some of the dates could have been affected by the needs of broadcast partners.
Griffin said the Cavs' situation was different from that of the Warriors, who rested healthy players against the Spurs.
"It was nothing like the last time that happened," he told ESPN, referring to last weekend. "Those were three healthy dudes that rested. That's not what happened tonight. Yeah, it sucks from a timing perspective. I feel bad for the league. I really do. I feel bad for the league, but it is what it is for us, from an injury standpoint. As you know, we haven't had a team together for more than a week at a time all year."
Asked if ABC will have to consider not scheduling these marquee games if the stars keep sitting, Cavaliers coach Ty Lue acknowledged feeling bad about the situation.
"I know," he said. "Sorry, ABC. This wasn't intentional. It's serious. So no need to have setbacks to play one game on national TV. We're being smart about it."
Silver said in February that reducing the preseason and starting the regular season earlier was implemented in the new collective bargaining agreement to address the issue of resting players and help reduce injuries.
"That's why we're adding the extra week to the season," Silver said during his news conference at the All-Star Game. "We've reduced the number of games we'll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season. ... That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players."
"So we do hope it will cut down on the resting of players in marquee games," Silver added. "I do recognize, though, that there isn't an easy solution to that problem, and I'm sympathetic to fans who turn out -- whether they buy tickets to games or watching games on television -- and don't see their favorite player on the floor. But we also have to be realistic that the science has gotten to the point where there is that direct correlation that we're aware of between fatigue and injuries. And as tough as it is on our fans to miss one of their favorite players for a game, it's far better than having them get injured and be out for long periods of time. So we're always still looking to strike that right balance."
ESPN's Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.