Remember the movie Billy Madison? You know the one, Adam Sandler goes back to school to win a bet, and along the way he becomes actual friends with kids far younger than him. In the movie there is this infamous scene plays out:
Sandler does a great job convincing his classmates that peeing their pants is cool, so everyone else decides to give it a try (would have hated to be on that school bus ride home from the field trip). At the end the old woman chimes in, "If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis."
The influential jazz trumpet player gets high praise here, but let's alter that line to today's NBA.
"If resting your players is cool, consider me Gregg Popovich."
It's the latest trend in the NBA. Good teams like the Spurs, Warriors, and Grizzlies have rested their players this season (I'm sure there have been others), and now bad teams, like the Nuggets, have joined in on that parade.
Do you have to be a good team in order to rest your players? One could make argument that the Spurs got really good because they decided to rest David Robinson and Co. a bit in the 1996-97 season (20-62). The Spurs wound up moving up from the third spot in the lottery to no. 1 spot with just 21.6% odds to do so. The Nuggets odds right now are nowhere near a 21% chance at the no. 1 pick, so why are they resting players? Do we believe they are really "tanking?" (That word is starting to lose all meaning.)
Would Bulls fans like a time machine to go back to the 2012 playoffs and pull Derrick Rose from a 99-87 game with 1:26 left to play? Rose wound up driving the lane, with his team comfortably ahead, and tearing his ACL, as a result. I know I'd take a trip in that time machine to go back and save Danilo Gallinari's knee in that infamous Mavericks April game. While you can't really safeguard against injury, shouldn't there also be a limit to the wear and tear you cause guys in a lost season?
In that March 13th game against the Warriors, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr rested Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut. The Nuggets didn't play Darrell Arthur or Ty Lawson (illness). In Denver's next game against the Pelicans, the Nuggets didn't play Arthur, Wilson Chandler (32 minutes vs Warriors), or Randy Foye (35 minutes vs Warriors). We didn't hear much outrage while the Nuggets went 2-0 in those games. And last night against the Grizzlies, the Nuggets sat Lawson (48 minutes vs Pelicans), Gallo (42 minutes vs Pelicans), and Kenneth Faried (43 minutes vs Pelicans). The Nuggets have gone 2-1 in those three games.
Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post, sent out this famous Tweet before the Grizzlies game that has sparked a ton of debate, locally and nationally:
To be clear: #Nuggets Interim head coach Melvin Hunt & his staff aren't choosing to rest players. Nor are players asking to be rested.— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) March 16, 2015
That Tweet indicated to folks that there is a mandate coming down from above the coaching staff on who to play and who not to play. What we haven't heard is the role the training staff might be playing in these decisions or the role management is playing in these decisions. We just know the coach wants all his guys in uniform and the players want to be on the floor too (that's a nice change of pace from the Brian Shaw days!).
One can easily point to Gallo and say that he probably shouldn't be playing in a back-to-back following a 42 minute game, while his team is 26-42 and all but mathematically eliminated from the post-season. The funny thing is, Gallo also probably shouldn't be playing in that situation if the team is 42-26 and entrenched in the Western Conference playoff picture.
As for the other players like Chandler, Arthur, Faried, Foye, and any others that may be sat as this lost season wears on? It's a great debate. Tim Connelly said after the Timofey Mozgov trade that the organization was going to eventually have to be realistic about where they stand and proceed accordingly.
Andrew Feinstein had a great line recently: coaches play for today, management for tomorrow.
Is it fair that management meddles in decisions on who is available for the coach? It'd be interesting to know how other teams go about making these decisions. It seems that Melvin Hunt wants to use all the tools in his box, and it's clear that players want to play for him.
#Nuggets F Kenneth Faried asked about resting: "No comment."— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) March 17, 2015
Faried has been playing through a shoulder injury recently, one that has required him to wear kinesiology tape during and even after games to relieve pain. Big props go to Faried for playing through the pain, and for going to war for Hunt. But one could argue that Faried is among the guys that Kevin Garnett called out for quitting on former coach Brian Shaw.
So, while the 6-3 run under Hunt has been fun, one has to take into consideration that the front office may want to see some different things from players in these final games. Perhaps the team wants to see what Jameer Nelson looks like as a starting point guard for these Nuggets. Nelson could be a nice stopgap player if the team decides to move on from Ty Lawson. It's believed that Nelson is still on the team, past the trade deadline, because he requested to be. Lawson may be playing out his final weeks as a Nugget, depending on what the front office feels about his decision making off the court.
There could be some truth to Tweets like this one from CBS Sports' Matt Moore:
To be fair to Nuggets management, though, there’s GOT to be a feeling of… "NOW you’re trying?!"— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 17, 2015
Perhaps the front office has decided to step in on a roster that didn't get the job done this season. Can you really blame them for wanting to look at different things and for resting guys that have injury concerns? It's a great debate. And with an interim coach (interim meaning: temporary), the front office may feel okay tinkering with the tools Hunt is allowed to build with. Do we want to see wins? Do we want to see losses for lottery purposes?
Even with Hunt coaching the team, we've seen Tweets like this one from ESPN Denver's Raj Sharan, celebrating losses (after the recent 120-111 loss to the Spurs):
To be fair, Raj also had this Tweet last night:
@bypaulklee I'm all for tanking the right way, this isn't it.— Raj Sharan (@Raj_Sharan) March 17, 2015
The only players the Nuggets rested in that Spurs loss were ... nobody. Jusuf Nurkic was dealing with an ankle injury, and Erick Green was the only guy not to get into the game. We can debate until we turn blue in the face about the right way to tank or whatever people want to call it, but the Nuggets management is walking a fine line with their players.
Forward Wilson Chandler was asked if he expected a full roster Thursday with the long rest between games.
"I have no idea what they are going to do," Chandler said. "Whoever is on the court just has to keep playing. It's the nature of the business. I'm not a GM; I don't know what's going on. It's tough when you're fighting together but you're getting set up for failure."
The Nuggets front office made the right move firing Shaw, his dismissal brought the team closer together. Hunt also deserves a lot of credit for bringing this team together and bringing the best out of his players. Also, make no mistake, Hunt's Xs and Os have been nice too. If anything, the 92-81 loss in Memphis did more to help Hunt's cause as a head coaching candidate. No Lawson, Gallo, or Faried and the Nuggets were able to make it a fourth quarter game against one of the best team's in the West (the Grizzlies are now 47-20).
The franchise is still searching for the right players. Whether it be through the draft, trades, free agency, or a combination of all three, this team's ceiling is capped without the right kind of players and leaders. Faried spoke about wanting to take on a leadership role with this team, this season. After Shaw's firing, Paul Klee of the Gazette had this to say in a column:
Kenneth Faried slipped in and out of the locker room like a 6-foot-8 ghost. But first - at a cost of $50 million over four seasons - Faried offered his expert opinion, directed at a gang of media scurrying through the locker room to take the Nuggets' temperature after Brian Shaw was fired Tuesday morning.
"That's (explicit) up!" Faried shouted, loud enough for a few choice people to hear.
He chose not to get involved in that battle after Shaw was gone (probably wise). Was Faried upset he didn't play in the Memphis game for individual purposes or because he couldn't help the team? It would have been nice to see him take up arms in this battle in a more definitive way. What would have been a stronger statement from Faried on his resting against the Grizzlies?
A.) His actual one of, "No comment."
B.) My made up one: I really wish I could have been out there on the floor tonight for Coach Hunt and for my teammates. We're still battling this season, and I want to keep fighting for them.
While Faried has been behind Hunt since he has taken over, going so far as to say he should be the coach of the Nuggets, the front office still has decisions to make on that end and on the roster. You can't really blame the guys upstairs for taking the reins in this lost season.
Everyone helped make this bed, and everyone has to lay in it until April 15th.