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NBA’s new load management policies unlikely to affect Nets

What does the NBA’s new attack on load management mean for the Nets? Not much unless Mikal Bridges makes the All-Star team ... and Bridges suddenly needs rest.

NBA: Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If Mikal Bridges is named an NBA All-Star in February, it will be celebrated by everyone: him, his family, his teammates, Jacque Vaughn, Sean Marks, Joe Tsai and the fans. It will no doubt be deserved ... and will help justify the trade of Kevin Durant to the Suns last February.

It would also mean that Mikal Bridges is officially a “star” under the NBA’s new terminology. It’s part of its Player Participation Policy which among other things aims to ensure that 49 said “stars” show up for national TV games. So, from the All-Star Break till the end of the 2023-24 season, the Nets wouldn’t be able to rest both of their two stars — Bridges and former All-Star Ben Simmons — in a game without making a good argument to the league office. (Simmons already qualifies as a “star” because he has been an All-Star in the past the three years and if Nic Claxton makes the All-Star team this season, it would also apply to him.)

The policy doesn’t prevent injured, sick or otherwise indisposed “stars” from sitting. The NBA does differentiate between load management — rest — and unavailability — injuries, illness and “personal reasons.” (There are also exemptions for “rare and unusual circumstances; roster management of unavailable star players; and end-of-season flexibility.” per ESPN.)

Of course, if Bridges does become an All-Star, one reason will doubtlessly be his durability. He loves to play. The 27-year-old hasn’t missed a game since his junior year in high school. Not at Villanova, not with the Suns, not with the Nets and most recently not with Team USA. Assuming he plays the Nets first eight games, he will extend his NBA-high consecutive game streak to 400. “Rest” is not in Bridges vocabulary and that makes the policy requirements, in his case, moot.

The list of requirements and exemptions is long. For the record, here they are from ESPN’s story Wednesday:

  • Teams must manage their roster to ensure that no more than one star player is unavailable for the same game. For example, the Boston Celtics would not be allowed to rest both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in the same game unless they are both injured.
  • Teams must ensure that star players are available for nationally televised and in-season tournament games.
  • Teams must refrain from any long-term shutdown — or near shutdown — when a star player stops participating in games or plays in a materially reduced role in circumstances affecting the integrity of the game. Under that scenario, the Washington Wizards and Portland Trail Blazers would’ve been investigated by the league after shutting down Bradley Beal (10 games) and Damian Lillard (11), respectively, at the end of last season.
  • Teams must maintain a balance between the number of one-game absences for a star player in home games and road games — with a preference for those absences to happen in home games.
  • If a team feels that a star player is unable to play in back-to-back games, it must provide to the NBA written information at least one week prior explaining why the player’s participation should be limited.
  • The league has also said that a team can seek approval for a star player to be unavailable for one end of a back-to-back based on the player’s prior or unusual injury history.

That last point should help the Nets navigate any restrictions related to Simmons who is coming off a six-month long back rehab following back surgery in May 2022.

Bottom line, though, is that while the policy is detailed (and unlikely to impact the Nets considering Bridges’ durability and Simmons’ long rehab), the goal is not difficult to understand: the NBA wants reduce load management: giving players, particularly stars, days off to rest. The league also is going into negotiations with TV outlets on a new rights package and it’s known that media rights holders are not happy with stars missing games. Nor are gambling interests, reports Bobby Marks, who notes that “the NBA is projected to receive $167 million in revenue from casinos and betting, an 11% increase from last season.”

As Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said in laying out the policy Wednesday, it’s all about getting everyone involved “to return to that principle that this is an 82-game league.”

“I think we’ll state this principle, see how teams react and see if more needs to be done,” Silver said. “But I think, most importantly, there’s a sense from all the different constituent groups in the league that this is ultimately about the fans and that we’ve taken this too far.

“I mean, this is an acknowledgement that it’s gotten away from us a bit, particularly I think when you see young, healthy players who are resting. It becomes maybe even more notion of stature around the league as opposed to absolute needed rest — or it’s just part of being an NBA player that you rest on certain days — and that’s what we’re trying to move away from.”

The league will have a number of enforcement levers, including independent medical reviews if necessary, as well fines of up to $1 million for teams who are found to violate the policies.

In the meantime, fans should still root for Bridges to make his first NBA All-Star team —- and keep the consecutive game streak alive.