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Report: NBA approves new rules to limit resting of star players

NBA teams will have to follow a new set of rules and will no longer be able to rest two star players in the same game.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The NBA is seriously cracking down on teams resting star players. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has now reported that the NBA Board of Governors has voted to approve the new rules to restrict the resting of stars and increase punishments. These changes will be implemented for the start of the 2023-24 season.

To clarify from the start, in this context, the NBA is defining a “star” as a player who’s made an All-Star or All-NBA team in any of the three previous seasons. By this definition, 15 teams are currently affected with multiple stars.

There’s quite a lot to unpack with the NBA’s new rules, but here’s a quick rundown of some of the key takeaways:

  1. No more than one star player can be unavailable in the same game — This is very straightforward and possibly the biggest change. Teams will have to stagger how they rest stars to avoid this, unless all stars players involved are unavailable for a game due to actual injury.
  2. Star players must be available for national TV and in-season tournament games — The NBA is clearly trying to give its new in-season tournament games some extra weight by including them in this rule. This takes away even more rest opportunities, and includes back-to-backs of such games as well. I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve forgotten the Sixers’ in-season tourney schedule, but you can refresh your memory here.
  3. Teams must maintain balance between the number of one-game absences for stars in home and away games — Basically, this is meant to take away a team’s option to play their stars more at home and then give them extra rest on the road. If, say, a team wanted to sit guys out more often at the end of long road trips.
  4. Teams can’t shut down a player when they stop playing in games or play “in a materially reduced role in circumstances affecting the integrity of the game” — For example, if a team wants to give a player extended time off to rest, or shut them down for the end of a season after missing out on playoff contention (or to tank a little harder), this may prompt an investigation from the NBA now.
  5. Healthy players resting must be at games and visible to fans — This one was already introduced in 2017, but is still part of the new rule set and breaking it will subject teams to the relevant (hefty) fines.

If teams break any of these rules, they’ll be fined $100,000 for the first violation, $250,000 for the second, and $1.25 million for the third. Beyond the third violation, teams will be fined $1 million more than the previous penalty for any additional violations.

So, from a Sixers perspective, these rules changes obviously impact Joel Embiid and, if he actually suits up to play another game for the team, James Harden. The team will need to get Embiid his rest by himself (whether that’s separate to Harden or a potential player fitting the “star” definition that the Sixers receive in a trade), and consider the timing of any rest days to manage his schedule around home/away balance and national/in-season tournament games.

(If you want to read about all the various rules and details in more depth, ESPN’s Bobby Marks has broken them down.)

The real issue here is players even needing to rest to begin with. This all comes back to there being too many games per season — or at least at its current length. Either reducing the total of number of games, or extending the season to better spread out the 82-game schedule, is the ideal fix here.

Never mind that now, though. Reducing the number of games would cost the NBA money that it clearly isn’t willing to lose. The league has gone the route of tighter rules to limit resting all together, and we’ll soon see how this plays out. We might see more fines and surely we’ll see teams come up with new ways to rest players around the rules by listing stars as unavailable due to various minor injuries.

Although, as Marks mentioned in his story, the league at least has the right to investigate if a star player misses one or more games with at least one of the following conditions: 1) missing a national TV or in-season tournament game 2) multiple star teammates miss the same game 3) there are inconsistent statements contradicting player status.

Teams will have to think even more about load management and scheduling, and won’t be able to just punt on the odd game to get all their stars a night off anymore.

These rules changes could potentially have a significant impact around the NBA, given how many teams have multiple “stars” by the league’s definition.

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