Money 1st, player safety last - NBC Sports

Money 1st, player safety last
NBA tried cramming as many games in as possible, and the result has been a rash of injuries
AP
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry crawls to the sideline after being injured late in the second quarter against the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 20.
January 10, 2012, 6:01 pm

Common sense.

Because as effortless as the world's best players can make it look, the behind-the-scenes efforts to keep NBA players on the court are unceasing.

During training camp. During the lulls between games. When given proper time for rehab.

The problem is, there barely was a training camp. And lulls between games have been reduced to taxiing, takeoff and touchdown in the next city.

Take a glance at virtually any NBA directory and the list of trainers, therapists and medical staff rivals, and sometimes surpasses, the depth of the roster itself.

And yet the two elements a team can't expense are the ones so lacking this season: rest and recovery.

Debate all you want whether or not the early-season flurry of injuries is merely the breaks of the game, injuries that could have transpired at any point of any season, lockout-compacted or otherwise.

But two elements of this lockout-compressed season are putting newfound pressure on players and medical staffs like no other. Sit out 7-10 days and you could miss five or six games, almost 10 percent of the season. Attempt to push past the ailments by continuing to play and the minutes race like long-haul odometers.

The selling point of the NBA long has been that you never know what you might see on a given night. This season, you never know who you might see.

Last week, a national television audience got to watch LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as cheerleaders in Atlanta. Had the schedule not been as compressed, James might have made it to the court, considering he made it back for the Heat's next game two nights later. As it was, the game in Atlanta was the Heat's fourth in five nights.

And that's the point. It's not the list of players missing games that includes Stephen Curry, Manu Ginobili, Brook Lopez, Eric Gordon, Zach Randolph, Rip Hamilton, Corey Maggette, Jason Kidd, Michael Beasley, Martell Webster, Baron Davis, Eric Maynor, Ronny Turiaf and so many others. It's that the schedule continues to spin wildly as they sit. What might previously have been a three-game absence might now be five or six. It's a league that has gone all Oden.

Who exactly was looking out for the players when this 66-game blender was set on puree? It couldn't have been the coaches, who live for training camp. It couldn't have been the trainers, who stress the significance of recovery. Even the owners have recognized the difficulties in selling home games on the consecutive nights.

But, foremost, what about the players? What about the union signing off on this recalibrated mayhem, with Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and others already questioning the scheduling bedlam in recent days, as well as the injury fallout?

As always, money talked.

"It came down to that," said Heat forward James Jones, secretary-treasurer of the NBA Players Association. "You don't get paid unless you play games. And having already missed a good portion of the season, the players felt that it was up to each individual player to be professional and maintain a level of conditioning and health and strength so that we can play as many games as possible.

"I mean 66 games is a lot of games. However, those guys that properly prepared are in better condition and those guys that didn't are struggling a little right now."

That's not to say this is a league that has gone Shawn Kemp.

In fact, don't lose sight, as Charles Barkley and the Saturday Night Live writers did over the weekend, that this was a lockout. One of the more foolish elements of the process was banning players from team facilities and team trainers.

These teams know their players as well as anybody, appreciate how many need that extra push to reach their potential. To deny that right and expect players to get up to speed in two weeks was foolish.

Even the Heat's Jones acknowledged that the pace has been staggering.

"We felt 66 games was basically the limit," he said. "I think anything more would have been too taxing on our bodies.

"But I can't blame it strictly on the 66 games, because you're only eight games into the season."

Yet it's not as if the league didn't see this coming, authorizing 13-player active rosters for the first six weeks of the season and then allowing teams to dress that many the balance of the season while moving back to the 12-player limit per game.

For teams of depth and talent, prudence remains in place, be it the Celtics sitting Paul Pierce early or the Heat doing the same with Wade.

The problem, though, with selectively sitting players is that with the lockout-shortened schedule some teams make only one appearance per city, if at all. Trying telling the paying customer that you're saving your superstar for when the games truly count. At that Heat-Hawks game, for example, a premium ticket fee was added because James and Wade were in town.

In the rush to get back to the court, in the haste to maximize ticket sales and paychecks, the union and the owners overlooked the health of the game and the health of the players.

The result? A most painful resumption of play.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.



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