Sitting players out of regular-season games for rest, a standard NBA practice these days, is laughable to prior-generation superstars Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing.
Hall of Famers Jordan, who now owns the Charlotte Hornets, and Ewing, the Hornets’ associate head coach, have said as much to coach Steve Clifford; that they took pride in striving to play all 82 games, even as they prepared for potential long playoff runs.
Being of Jordan’s and Ewing’s generation, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers gets that point of view. But rather than take a "back in my day" attitude, Rivers has adapted to the times and deferred to sleep and conditioning experts.
This discussion started Saturday when Hornets coach Steve Clifford was asked if All-Star Kemba Walker was wearing out.
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"I don’t talk to any of the ex-players about rest because they kill me. They don’t want to hear it. We were programmed differently," said Rivers, who played 13 NBA seasons at point guard.
"I played every minute. I was (ticked) when (Atlanta Hawks coach Mike) Fratello took me out. I wanted to play 48 minutes a night," Rivers recalled.
The genesis of this pre-game discussion Saturday started when Clifford was asked if Hornets point guard Kemba Walker was wearing out, and might need to be held out of occasional games after the All-Star break.
Clifford said he doesn’t believe Walker, a first-time All-Star, has been used excessively, averaging 34 minutes per game. He said Walker trains in the off-season in Charlotte to be ready to play whenever healthy. The only game Walker has missed this season was an excused absence Dec. 16 for personal reasons.
I don’t talk to any of the ex-players about rest because they kill me. They don’t want to hear it.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers
"When I first got in the league (as an advance scout for the New York Knicks in 2000), everybody tried to play 82 games," Clifford said. "(Resting players) definitely works for some teams. I understand, but I know, talking to Michael and Patrick, they don’t understand it.
"I’ve talked to trainers in this league who say rest is critical. I’ve heard other trainers who say you should train in the summer in a way to prepare yourself to play 82 times a year."
All this started when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich intermittently sat out starters to help veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili get through the regular season healthy. Now, many other teams have similar practices.
Rivers, who has also coached the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics, has seen incredible change in regard to rest and upkeep of players’ bodies. His first eight seasons as a player, the NBA was still flying commercially, which meant getting to an airport at 5:30 a.m. after a game to catch a plane to the next city.
I don’t think it’s generational. I think it’s educational.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, on newer ideas on resting players
Now, charter flights are universal among the 30 franchises. Both the Clippers and Hornets have made an effort to avoid late-night flights whenever possible. Rivers’ guideline is unless his team can be in the next city by midnight local time, delay flying until the next morning.
"I don’t think it’s generational. I think it’s educational," Rivers said of the new approaches.
"I know I’m not that smart, and smarter people say there’s a better way. I guess I’m dumb enough to listen. There are too many people telling you this is good."