Fresh off Rick Carlisle rested all five of his starters in a back-to-back against the Oklahoma City Thunder and promptly losing the game by a not-all-that-close 20 points, today's roundtable tackles whether intentionally losing games to rest starters actually makes sense. Here's the prompt that was given to our writers.
Rick Carlisle rested most of his starters vs. OKC for the fourth time this season, despite the players saying they'd rather be out there. Where do you stand on the drastic minutes restrictions? In what ways do you think it helps or hurts the team?
I believe Rick Carlisle justified it by stating that there's a "big picture" to consider, and I'll parrot that point. This roster has an aging star who legitimately needs rest to stay productive, and nearly half the current payroll is going to a pair of players returning from major injuries. This team has depth issues, but their starting lineup might be the most complete since the title season. Keeping that group healthy together is and should be a major priority.
It helps long term, because with Dirk Nowitzki being old and Parsons, Matthews, and Williams all having health concerns, it's important that no one get injured in a way that could be caused by excessive wear and tear. What sucks is if the Mavericks lose a big game like Cleveland, while playing the starters more than usual, because what it sets the team up for is a pair of losses. The Mavericks may sneak one by teams now and again (the Houston game earlier this year is one example that comes to mind, since three starters rested) when rotation players get to sit out a game, but it's not to be expected. Dallas has to win these big games if they plan to regularly sit starters.
I am firmly pro-minutes restriction. Barring something huge changing, it seems pretty likely this team will make the playoffs this season. While I can see the rationale for doing everything possible to get the 4 or 5 seed (and avoid a first round matchup against one of the West's top 3), I'd rather see Dallas focus on having the best possible team available when the playoffs get here, regardless of seed. To me, that means resting the old and/or healing stars of this team whenever possible.
Also, given how underwhelming the bench has been this season, it can only be a positive to be getting these guys playing time where possible. I just hope the younger guys will make the most of what experience they can get in throwaway games like this.
Carlisle going with these minute restrictions goes both ways. On one hand, he needs to rest these guys. Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons are still far away from playing back-to-back nights on a consistent basis. Dirk needs as much time off as possible. Deron Williams can hurt his knee/hamstring/leg at any time. It's important they get that rest. However, this is a tough stretch the Mavs are in right now, as we've discussed at length here. Dallas needs some of these wins, and missed a golden opportunity against Cleveland the other night. These Mavs are No. 5 in the West at the halfway mark, but they need some of these crucial wins to ensure they stay there. Resting guys won't get it done, but yet it's understandable when it happens.
The players going to play, play, play...unless they are starters on the Mavs then they need to get all the rest they can. I can't fault Carlisle for sitting his guys. The worst possible thing for this team would be to have their best players burnout over the course of the season. Dallas has been playing better than almost anyone imagined and is on pace to be in the middle of the pack of playoff seeding. They need their starters rested if they have any hopes of making some noise in the playoff race. No one wants to see the temperature gauge red line and smoke billowing out from under the hood. Besides, who doesn't love seeing #benchmode in full force every now and then? Justin Anderson needs the experience.
Carlisle has to do what he has to do. Resting players isn't any fun for anyone involved, but it's a necessary evil for this team. As I detailed in a piece earlier this week, the playoff field for the West seems pretty set unless something drastic happens. Dirk is old and there's no shame in rest him on the second night of a back-to-backs after playing heavy minutes the night before. Matthews and Parsons are who the Mavs hope can be foundation players for the future, but are coming off of major injuries that have ended careers. We already know how fragile D-Will is, whether in games or practices. Sure, it hurts the team for that night, but helps in the long term. If the Mavs have any hopes of maybe winning a playoff series this year, they have to make sure their main guys are fresh. There's nothing wrong with playing it safe here and there for an old team that will likely make the postseason.
I think it's inarguable in 2016 that managing starters' workloads is an important ability for a coach, even on a team that's not likely to knock off one of the top four West squads. If the Mavericks are going to qualify for the playoffs at all, they need to keep up a high level of play through March and early April. Maintaining the health of guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams will be a big part of doing that.
The limit restrictions for those two and other starters are interesting for another reason though -- the opportunities opened up for young players and end-of-benchers that rarely see the floor otherwise. The handful of fans who actually watched Wednesday night's mess of a game against Oklahoma City saw 7'1" Salah Mejri, who had yet to score his first NBA basket, post 17 points and 9 rebounds in 25 minutes. The skills he displayed rolling to the rim and catching lob passes could lead to more minutes later on. The drawback of these games when all five starters sit is that it gets harder for younger guys like Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell to establish themselves without superior teammates to play off of. Hopefully as the season continues, Carlisle can find ways to stagger the games starters sit, so less experienced players can benefit from having a playmaker like Williams or Chandler Parsons in the game.
I'm all for it, for a few reasons. First of all I think it's the smart thing to do when you have a couple of players coming off of major injuries who you're hoping to be the future of your franchise in Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons. Oh, you also happen to have a 37-year-old star who just got done playing an overtime game the night before. This is a big picture move and considering the two coaches that have been in the news for doing this are Rick Carlisle and Greg Popovich... Well, that's some pretty elite company.
The interesting thing to me is that I think Carlisle may be sending a message to the league by doing this. There are plenty of disappointed fans as a result of this move. We see Dirk often but fans in Houston, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City have very few chances left to see him in person and now even when he is in town, he sat even though he was healthy. Could this be a message to Adam Silver to cut down or eliminate the back-to-backs? I wouldn't put it past Rick Carlisle.
It makes sense on several levels for Carlisle to restrict minutes for all five starters. First, Dirk and Deron Williams are aging, and as they continue to fight against Father Time, they need all the rest that can be made available to them. It's a similar argument for Zaza, who hasn't played anything close to this many minutes in a season since the 2011-12 season. For Wes and Chandler, it's a matter of doing everything possible to keep from re-injuring themselves (although that argument is carrying less water the further we move into the season). Is it frustrating? Certainly. But Carlisle is playing the long game, and I can't fault him for that.
Let's also take a step back and consider that, with the current state of the Western Conference, Dallas can afford to rest guys without giving up too much ground in the standings. This was never going to be a Top-3 team in the West, and while it could be a tight race for spots 5-7, the teams behind Dallas, Memphis, and Houston are all 5+ games below .500 and looking more like they're going to burst into flames than make a serious charge for a playoff spot. Resting now for a big push in March/April and beyond is the logical thing to do.