The tightened schedule the NBA adopted to squeeze 72 games into five months is being criticized amid an increase in injuries, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN. Holmes talked to several general managers and training staff officials who believe players are more at risk than ever.
“Hands down, it’s the worst schedule I’ve seen in 25 years in the league,” a veteran assistant coach said. “It’s utterly insane.” Another called it “brutal,” while a head athletic trainer said the situation is worse than what teams experienced during the restart in Orlando last summer.
“Going into the bubble, we had all these different anxieties about the games, but without travel,” the trainer said. “This is literally exponentially more difficult. It’s such a cumulative effect.”
Data from the Elias Sports Bureau indicates that 2021 All-Stars have missed 15% of games this season, which would be the second-highest rate in league history. Several executives told Holmes that prior to the season, general managers voiced concerns over the schedule to the NBA office, including to commissioner Adam Silver, but the league was determined to complete the season in time to give players the chance to compete in the Summer Olympics, which will begin July 21.
An NBA spokesperson contends that through 50 games, the number of injuries is actually down from last season and is within the normal range for the past five years. The league took steps this year to cut down on travel, such as having teams play a two-game series at some stops and reducing the number of one-game road trips.
Complicating the schedule was the high number of games that were postponed during the first half of the season because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Those games are being made up in the second half, forcing some teams to play far more often than normal.
The Grizzlies, for example, play three games in four nights 22 times over the second half, although some of those overlap. Memphis also has eight instances of five games in seven days, which is the most in the league, followed by the Spurs with seven and the Pistons, Rockets and Mavericks with five each. The Heat went 51 games without more than one day of rest between games, which is the longest stretch since the lockout season in 2011/12.
The NBA is coming off a shortened offseason as some playoff teams played into October last year, then started the new season in December. Silver has expressed optimism that next season will start on time, so players will again have limited time to recover this summer. The NBA Finals could go last late as July 22, and Summer League in Las Vegas is expected to be held in August.
“This whole two-year period will have a marked long-term effect on players many years down the line,” a general manager said. “It’s like if your power goes out. You have to burn candles if you want light. If you burn them, you won’t have them the next time your power goes out. We are burning through the players right now at an alarming rate. But again, what’s the alternative? Twenty-five-man rosters? Fewer games? It’s not just a ‘league thing.’ It all required collaboration with the NBPA. It’s a shared responsibility, driven almost exclusively by the seduction of (money).”