In a memo sent to teams by the NBA Monday morning, the league laid out resting policies for the 2020-21 regular season — including granting significant flexibility to teams resting players in non-nationally televised games, particularly at the start of the season.
The memo, which was obtained by ESPN, says that flexibility applies to teams playing back-to-back games and presents examples of possible scenarios, including, “to rest a key veteran player who played a substantial role on a team that advanced deep into the 2020 Playoffs, or to rest a player who is still returning to full strength after recovering from COVID-19.”
That would appear to be a clear nod to players like Los Angeles Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler, who played until mid-October, when the NBA Finals wrapped up, and will have to start the new season just over two months later.
Typically, players who reach the NBA Finals in mid-June get four months of rest until the next season starts in mid-October.
Speaking to reporters Monday for the first time during training camp, James said he and the Lakers will be judicious about his minutes to start the season, as the defending champions look to win another title.
“I’ve always listened to my coaches,” James said when asked about load management. “We had the same thing last year. We’re going to be as smart as we can be on … making sure that my body, on making sure that I’m ready to go.
“Obviously, every game matters, but we’re competing for something that’s high. We don’t ever want to shortchange our stuff. For me personally, that’s a fine line with me, but understanding that it’s a shortened season. I think it’s 71 days that the offseason is going to be, the shortest [offseason] for any professional sport ever.
“We’re very conscientious about what we’re going to do going forward, as far as me personally.”
The Lakers are scheduled to open the regular season Dec. 22; James will turn 36 on Dec. 30.
The memo also says that qualifying factors to determine whether players fall under “unusual circumstances” include a player’s age, injury history, COVID-19 recovery, season and career workload, and schedule issues — including how many games a team has recently played and how many consecutive road games it has played.
The memo also reinforces rules around nationally televised games that have been in place for multiple seasons, stating that teams are prohibited from resting healthy players for a “high-profile, nationally-televised game.” It states that any team that chooses to do this will be fined at least $100,000.
Also, absent the “unusual circumstances” mentioned above, the memo says teams should not rest multiple healthy players in the same game and should not rest healthy players when playing on the road.
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.