The last time the NBA used the phrase “unintended consequences,” it applied to the salary cap hike of 2016 that temporarily altered competitive balance by allowing the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant in free agency.
Now the phrase is back, albeit in a different way, with a few players coming close to missing out on awards and honors because they won’t meet the threshold of 65 games played.
“You’re always gonna have unintended consequences, that’s the first thing,” NBA executive vice president Joe Dumars told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday afternoon. “The second thing, you kind of knew that the first couple of guys that were going to get close to that mark, it will become an issue. So it probably was going to become a talking point at some point.
“It could’ve been a month from now. The number is what the number is. I’m not surprised, [though].”
Embiid has missed games because of myriad knee issues this season and throughout his career, winning MVP last season despite playing 66 games, the fewest for a winner in an 82-game season since the media began voting in 1980.
Embiid has played 34 of Philadelphia’s 46 games to date.
Haliburton has money on the line after missing 11 games with a hamstring injury. The game in which he injured himself doesn’t count toward the 65-game total because he didn’t play 20 minutes in it.
Haliburton called the rule “stupid,” but Dumars offers an important reminder: It was collectively bargained in this summer’s CBA.
“Lest we forget, this was collectively bargained, players' association, signed off by the owners, signed off by the competition committee,” Dumars said. “And we've updated the numbers. We throw a lot of numbers around, and at the end of the day, everybody landed on 65 and said, 'You know what, that's 20 percent, 20 percent of the season basically. That's fair.' Everybody in the ecosystem signed off on this.”
As a player, Dumars was a six-time All-Star and Finals MVP in 1989. Over his 14-year career, he played 82 games three times and between 75-79 games four other seasons. If this rule were in place when he played, he would’ve been eligible in every 82-game season. His last year was a lockout-shortened, 50-game season in which he played 38 games in 1998-99.
“I joke with people and I go, 'Maybe it's been a while, but I played in this league and I feel for these players. I'm sympathetic to these guys, what they have to go through,'” Dumars said. “If a guy's injured, man, and he has missed these games, and he's getting close to the threshold, I'm gonna feel bad for that guy. Whether it's a guy that's injured a lot, or whether it's Haliburton that it's just a freak accident.”
Dallas’ Kyrie Irving is already ineligible. Miami’s Jimmy Butler has missed 13 games so far, and Bam Adebayo has missed 10. Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell, who was in strong consideration to start for the East in the upcoming All-Star game, has missed nine.
The league clearly doesn’t want injured players competing, but load management took on a life of its own over the last decade. The trust between the league and players, and the television networks had eroded. Many fans were ready to see the Embiid-Nikola Jokić matchup on Saturday night on national TV, but Embiid was a last-second scratch after not being on the injury report earlier in the day.
One wonders if the All-NBA teams won't fully represent the individual excellence if more names become ineligible.
“I’m gonna go back to my players' hat. I'm gonna feel bad for whatever player that happens to. But I can assure you that whoever steps into that space ... it's going to be someone who has had a great year,” Dumars said. “Every year, these things come out and people say, ‘Who got snubbed?’ But no way can you sit here and say you won’t feel bad if someone misses out. I’ll feel awful.”
With the explosion of scoring, there could be a number players with legit All-NBA cases. In a span of four days, four players scored 60 or more. Luka Doncic scored 73 points Friday against Atlanta, the most since Kobe Bryant scored 81 in 2006.
The difference is teams are averaging 115 points this season. In 2006, that number was slightly over 97 points. Dumars said the league has had recent meetings with the coaches, general managers and the competition committee, with the rise in scoring being a topic.
"There is no agenda in this office. About what scoring we want to see, there is no number,” Dumars said. "The true tale of a good game is people the next day say, ‘Did you see that great game last night?’”
Dumars and his son went to the Celtics-Nuggets game in Boston on Jan. 19, the game in which the Nuggets snapped the Celtics’ undefeated home streak. The final score was 102-100, and Dumars called it one of the best games of the year.
“You can have some bad 140-point games,” Dumars said. “That's why I say it would be foolish to say we want ‘that number,’ that doesn't guarantee that you're going to have a great game. It might be a game that people turn off at some point.”
Dumars believes players scoring 60 or more is the exception, not the rule. And he notes scoring is only slightly up from last season. But it’s been exponentially on the rise over the last 10 years with the 3-point explosion.
It’s not just a concern among media and some segment of fans, it’s also a matter of what the league will do.
“The question is posed to each one of those groups: Is the balance out of whack? Do we need to balance this more to allow defenses to defend more, to do more on the defensive end of the court? And by and large, people are saying it wouldn't be bad to have a little bit more defense.”
There’s no consensus yet, and Dumars wouldn’t tip his hand as to what ideas he’s seen or believes could be up for a vote in the summer. As a player, Dumars defended Michael Jordan as well as anyone and used to tell the officials that Jordan was so good he didn’t need any help from them.
That can be said about offensive players today, with 48 players averaging more than 20 a night.
“You don't want it where the defense can just, you know, grab and hold, and you don't want it when the offense has just this huge advantage, either,” Dumars said.
Whether it’s the lack of physicality on the perimeter or offenses being given advantages defense can’t counter, the balance is off. Dumars admitted it.
“That’s why the conversation is going on. I can say that much.”