Timberwolves

How Should the Wolves Navigate the New Rest Rules?

Photo Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Defining a star player in the NBA is a lot like Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity, you know it when you see it. Excluding the rats on Reddit who think Karl-Anthony Towns is the 938th best player in the league, most of us are pretty aligned on who are the best players. And, more importantly, the players who we’ll all shell out to see in person when their team comes to town. Unfortunately for the casual fans who only want to see LeBron James or Steph Curry once a year, the NBA is in its load management era. Stars consistently sitting out home or away games to rest with little regard for the fans.

All of that is about to change after the NBA Board of Governors voted unanimously this week to approve harsher penalties for star players who sit out games. Dubbed the “Player Participation Policy,” the new rest rules give the league office greater authority to impose penalties and fine teams up to $1 million if teams violate them.

The gist of the new policy to try to discourage strategic load management has a few important bullet points:

  • Teams must make sure that no more than one star player is out at a time, unless they’re injured.
  • Teams must make star players available for nationally televised games and the new in-season tournament.
  • Teams must avoid long-term shutdowns, which the NBA can then investigate.
  • Teams have to prioritize sitting star players out at home rather than on the road.
  • A star must be visible to fans if they are healthy and not playing.
  • “Star” players are defined as any player who made an All-NBA or All-Star team in the past three season.

There are some exceptions to the new rules, notably for players 35 and older or players who have hit 34,000 regular season minutes, or 1,000 regular season and playoff games combined in their careers. But for the most part, the NBA is sending a clear message to the teams to knock the load management off.

This new policy uniquely affects the Minnesota Timberwolves heading into the 2023-24 NBA season. There are 50 players who fit the star criteria of the new policy, and the Timberwolves are one of two teams with four star players. Anthony Edwards, Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley have all either been named to an All-NBA team or are recent All-Stars. (Gobert was third-team All-NBA in 2020-21 and Towns was named to the third team in 2021-22, while Conley made his first All-Star team in 2020-21 and Ant made his All-Star debut last season.) The only other team with as many players affected by the Player Participation Policy is the Golden State Warriors with Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Chris Paul.

Conley gets the benefits of being over 35, but the Wolves will be hard-pressed to trot out their best players for as many of the 82 games as possible. In the old days, you could see the coaching staff and front office putting together a plan to ride the youngsters like Ant, Jaden McDaniels, and Naz Reid while finding strategic ways to sit Conley, Gobert, and KAT 10 to 20 games. Conley is an old who needs rest. Gobert is tall and over 30 and battled some injuries and wear and tear that hampered his first season in Minnesota. And Towns missed 52 games due to a calf injury and might need a few extra days as a precaution. Those extra days are gone and now Chris Finch will need to get creative to make sure his guys are well-rested from October to June.

Maybe his rotation on back-to-backs gets a little deeper and we can see some extra regular season run from guys like Josh Minott and Leonard Miller. Or maybe he decreases his veterans’ minutes and hands them out to the young go-hards.

Speaking of young go-hards, we know where the brightest star on the team stands on load management. Edwards famously said how much he didn’t like guys resting all the time at the 2023 NBA All-Star Game. The 22-year-old has only missed 13 games across the first three seasons of his young career. Therefore, we should pencil him in for 75-plus every season going forward, especially to make sure he meets the requirements to be eligible for end-of-season awards. As long as Finch didn’t take the Tom Thibodeau summer course in how to grind your young stars into early retirement, Edwards should continue on his superstar path without a care in the world about managing his load.

The new wave of rules to try to desperately curb load management is going to piss a lot of players and team personnel off and probably result in a lot of hefty fines and awkward meetings between coaches and Adam Silver. Ultimately it raises the floor of competition in the NBA and brings fans a better product. The rules affect the Timberwolves more than almost any other team in the league, but as long as the core 6 to 7 players can stay relatively healthy the Wolves are primed to make some noise this year in the West.

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