Olde Tyme Randy Wittman on a Shorter NBA Season | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Olde Tyme Randy Wittman on a Shorter NBA Season

Updated: October 22, 2014

[image via HoopDistrict.net]

[image via HoopDistrict.net]

Randy Wittman and I agree, in principle. Talk of shortening the NBA schedule from 82 games or decreasing the amount of minutes in a game should be halted. Whether we arrive at the destination using the same path is a different story.

Following the Wizards, however, makes one conflicted. Can more rest for supreme basketball athletes help them stay on the court? There’s probably something to that. There’s also probably other ways to get rest. A recent afternoon preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics implemented 11-minutes quarters instead of 12. The players barely noticed. Sure, the idea would be for such a change to have an impact over a duration of time (a season), but at what cost? Not at the cost of precious statistical comparison, according to Wizards coach Randy Wittman, among other things. I asked the self-professed olde tyme mind about this on Tuesday.

“There’s nothing wrong with the game. If you want to eliminate things to make it a better, quicker game, eliminate a timeout. Alright? But you’re not going to do that, because who makes money on timeouts? So I don’t know why we want to mess with a good game, but we won’t mess with it in a manner because you might lose some money. It makes no sense to me,” he said.

I’m not sure you’ll ever win the money argument, Coach. And I’m not so sure it’s about the length of the game but rather the toll it takes on the modern player, whose bodies are now more taxed year-round as opposed to the pros back in Wittman’s day. Of course, modern players now have much more sophisticated science to help them recover—hyperbolic chambers, zero-gravity treadmills, compression gear, padded undergarments, and muscle milkshakes that bring all the trainers to the yard.

But won’t anyone think about the children’s history? Wittman will.

“I think you’ll lose the whole history of the game—you go to 44 minutes, you go to 50 games, whatever the number. Now, how are you going to compare eras? I think you’re going to lose that love of what everybody likes to compare—Wilt Chamberlain to (Dwight) Howard, Michael Jordan to LeBron James—you’re not going to be able to do that.

“It’s kind of funny, Michael Jordan is an owner now, but he’s absolutely right, if you love to play the game, you want to play 82. He said he’d probably find a game somewhere else if he was only playing 66. I think we got to do a better job of, if guys are getting worn out, use your bench better. You’ve got 15 guys. If we’re worried about players and that nature, then you’ve got to develop a better bench, develop better players, and utilize them. I would be shocked if the Players Association … from the standpoint of a fringe player—a 44-minute game, a 40-minute game, I’m going to play my main players the same amount of minutes. It ain’t going to fluctuate. So who’s going to suffer? Guys that are role players. They’re not going to have the opportunity to really expand and have a chance to take a step in their careers from that to a midlevel player. That’s my opinion on it. And listening to everybody talk after (about the 44-minute game between Brooklyn and Boston), I don’t think anybody thought it was that big of a deal, the four minutes.”

It was somewhat odd listening to the coach try to navigate the balance of using bench players more while insisting on playing his main guys the same amount of minutes no matter what. Before Bradley Beal was diagnosed with a stress injury last November, after a stress injury cut his 2012-13 season short, Beal was one of two NBA players averaging more than 40 minutes per game. Per NBA.com’s player tracking data, Beal was also leading the league in distance travelled per game. No wonder why his body broke down. Whether Wittman’s hand was forced by ownership or if it was a bit of self-realization, or both, best believe that the coach will be more careful going forward. He’d better be.

Reducing the schedule is, nonetheless, as impractical as trying to avoid advertisements on uniforms. And shortening games by a minute or so seems negligible at face value and not worth the sacrifice. Nets coach Lionel Hollins has suggested that the NBA scrutinize travel schedules and back-to-back games more. With an extended All-Star break making its debut this season (it will not be at least a week with many teams having eight or nine days off), there will be more back-to-back games than ever.

But Wittman can live without hearing about travel woes, too.

“Here’s the thing, when I played and a long time before I played, we got up at 4 o’clock,” he said. “You have to catch the first flight out, commercial (emphasis Wittman’s), and we weren’t tired. It’s easy to say that and to make the excuses. It didn’t hurt Dr. J when he had to get up at 5 a.m. every frickin’ morning to get on a commercial flight and eat a hot dog, OK, and play the next night. I don’t think we even considered, ‘Well, we better cut this thing to 40 minutes, or cut it to 66 games.’ ”

Julius Erving played in the ABA and NBA over 16 seasons (1,243 games) and accrued 45,227 regular season minutes (a 36.4 average). He averaged over 40 minutes per game over his first four seasons, averaged over 36 in two other seasons, and averaged a career-low 32 minutes per game in his final season.

LeBron James has completed 11 NBA seasons (842 games) and has averaged 39.5 minutes per game over his career. He averaged 40.3 minutes per game his first seven seasons with Cleveland and 38.0 minutes per game his last four seasons with Miami.

Erving made the playoffs in each of his 16 seasons—89 playoff games, 7,352 total minutes, a 38.9 per game average. James, after missing the playoffs his first two seasons in the NBA, has been to the postseason nine straight years and has played 158 games (6,717 total minutes; a 42.5 per game average).

LeBron started his pro career at 19, as opposed the Erving at 21, but the wear-and-tear opportunity seems relatively in lockstep. Erving appeared in 60 games in his final NBA season at age 36. LeBron will turn 30 this December. The main difference is that LeBron has been taxed at more minutes per game—3.6 more minutes per game in the playoffs, and 1.9 more minutes per game in the regular season (LeBron’s 11 seasons compared to Erving’s first 11).

Hardly a reason for the NBA to cut games, but LeBron will complain nonetheless, because he thinks he’s special. Perhaps he only wants to spoil people for 66 games.

But it’s not about LeBron, it’s about preserving the product while maximizing exposure. Players are more aware of the need to eat right and take care of their bodies than ever before. Another bit of history: Evidently Dr. J liked hot dogs as much as Rod Strickland. Or what about Andre Miller? His endurance could be an anomaly, or just as much of genetic advantage as LeBron’s combination of size an agility. Martell Webster once said that Miller’s secret to playing in the NBA at age 38 is not jumping. Hint, hint, LeBron.

“The game’s a great game,” Wittman said. “My whole point is, I love the game, and I’m a history guy. I’m olde tyme, I’m an olde tyme guy, and I think you’re going to lose all that. I keep talking to my guys—these young kids today: ‘Learn the history of the game. I want you to know who Dr. J  was, who Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was, who Olajuwon was—the great players. Learn the game.’

“I think you lose that. You’re going to lose who that guy actually was. You’re playing a 44-minute game, and you’re averaging 21 points … you’re better than that guy because he played 48 and only averaged 20 [points per game].

“Why did you bring this up?”

The potential demise of history due to time-statistical discrepancies is a tad exaggerated. (Although, it’s hard to argue against those claiming that a longer NFL season would sever a statistical connection to the past.) In the NBA, such would even out over time, and there would likely be an increased reliance on Per 36 Minutes or per 100 Possessions metrics. But there are so many ways to better creatively manage the game without changing the dimensions. I don’t have all the answers, and don’t promise to provide them, but can join Wittman in pointing to what’s not the answer.

“I don’t know if there’s very many people who like preseason—from the coaches to fans to players—but it’s there, and we’ve got to take advantage of that time to play live games,” said the coach as part of his opening statements after practice on Tuesday. It was unrelated to the minutes/game reduction discussion.

“Oh, gosh, yes… I hate the preseason,” said Wittman to close the session—after the discussion of how they did it back in his day. And so maybe there’s something to that. More preseason open practices, more controlled inter-squad scrimmages, less preseason games (and travel). Maybe even start the regular season earlier so the schedule is not so condensed (while keeping the extended All-Star break).

A middle ground is somewhere between creative problem-solving, the reality that games won’t be reduced (hello, billion-dollar television contract), and the silliness of saying, in essence, why not just end baseball at the seventh inning stretch?


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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.