NBA Player Participation Policy explained

Feb 18, 2023; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Domantas Sabonis (left) and Anthony Edwards during NBA All-Star Game practice at Huntsman Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2023; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Domantas Sabonis (left) and Anthony Edwards during NBA All-Star Game practice at Huntsman Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the summer, the league implemented a new Player Participation Policy to combat load management. Too often teams rest all their stars at once, don’t play them in back-to-backs, leave them on the bench in road games, or shut them down for the end of the season if the team is tanking.

This does not only take the competition out of many games, but it also leaves fans disappointed if their favorite player is not on the court despite being healthy. Players receive the brunt of the criticism but most of the time it is not their decision.

The majority of NBA players want to play—that’s why they became professional basketball players—but teams are often concerned with getting their stars to the playoffs in one piece rather than playing them on a random Tuesday night against a tanking team.

To combat that, the league decided to take measures based on data, which indicates that load management doesn’t necessarily equate to healthier players.

From now on out, teams are not allowed to sit several star players at the same time without good reason and approval from the league anymore. Stars also have to be available for in-season tournament games and nationally televised games if healthy.

Furthermore, teams have to maintain a balance between resting players on the road and at home and healthy players who are resting have to at least be visible to fans. Teams can also not shut down players anymore. One example of this would be the Trail Blazers shutting down Damian Lillard at the end of last season to land a top draft pick.

Obviously, this policy is not foolproof, and teams will be able to find loopholes, but the league will investigate absences and hand out fines if necessary. Three violations could cost teams more than $1 million.

This new participation policy goes hand in hand with the requirement in the Collective Bargaining Agreement for players to play at least 65 games to win end-of-the-season awards or make All-NBA teams.

For players who suffer season-ending injuries, there is a certain exception. If someone who suffered that kind of injury, played at least 85% of the regular season games prior, they are still eligible.

Who qualifies as a star player?

Star players are defined in the new Player Participation Policy as any player who was selected to an All-Star or All-NBA team in the previous three seasons. Rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama or Jamal Murray, who has not been an All-Star yet, for example, are not affected by the policy.

Are there any exceptions?

The policy includes an exception for players, who were 35 or older on opening night as well as for players, who have played a total of 34,000 regular season minutes or a total of 1,000 regular season and playoff games over their careers. In those cases, teams can apply for pre-approved designated back-to-back allowances.

It sounds complicated but is actually rather simple. Teams can write to the league a week ahead of a back-to-back to outline why an older star should get the opportunity to sit out the back-to-back or at least part of it.

This exception only applies to a handful of players: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, LeBron James, James Harden, and DeMar DeRozan.

How does this new policy affect the Kings?

The Kings are one of the few teams that will not be bothered much by this policy. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis both fall into the star category but they rarely miss games. Both have shown the willingness to play through injuries to help the team win, and the Kings have not practiced much load management in the past.

Considering that they want to have another successful season, that shouldn’t be any different this time around. So, new policy or not, we should expect all our favorite Kings to be on the floor whenever they can.

Is this really the solution to the problem?

It’s been about a week since the 2023-24 season kicked off on October 24, but stars are already missing games left and right, and it looks like there is not much the league can do.

For players who really want to win end-of-the-season awards and make All-NBA teams, there certainly is an incentive to be available. Otherwise, the only way to prevent load management and missed games might be to shorten the season.

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