Tyrese Haliburton played 22 minutes and change on Tuesday night. A hamstring injury has been nagging him for most of January. Haliburton has missed 10 of the Indiana Pacers’ last 11 games. Usually, there would be no issue with him needing 15-20 games to fully recover from a soft-tissue injury. In fact, at no time in NBA history would that be an issue, except for this current season.
Haliburton signed a nine-figure contract extension over the summer and has since played at a borderline MVP level. Making his first All-NBA team would be a virtual certainty, except for the fact that he has missed 11 games. Beginning with the 2023-24 season, in order to be eligible for regular-season honors such as All-NBA, All-Defense and MVP, a player must not only play in at least 65 games, but also at least 20 minutes in every game except for two. The NBA allows the leeway of two games in which a player clocks only 15 minutes.
An All-NBA season would give Haliburton a $40 million raise over the life of his extension — he is currently playing under the final year of his rookie contract. Besides missing 11 games, he also only logged 13 minutes the night that he first came up gimpy against the Boston Celtics in early January.
Haliburton is not the only player who forced his way onto the court Tuesday night. Joel Embiid has been dealing with a knee issue. He is already playing on a supermax contract, but he likely wants another MVP award. Embiid has lobbied hard for it in the past, and was brought to tears after finally winning it last season. Throughout his entire career, health has been a struggle. He literally did not suit up for a game during his first two seasons.
With these new rules, Embiid went ahead and limped his way up and down the court against the Golden State Warriors on an ailing left knee. Late in the fourth quarter, Jonathan Kuminga fell on top of it. Philadelphia 76ers coach Nick Nurse said that Embiid will undergo an MRI on Wednesday, and also that the current knee issues are unrelated to the previous one.
On Monday, Haliburton told The Athletic’s James Boyd that the 65-game minimum for awards is “a stupid rule.”
This is what the NBA wants. The push for 82. Players’ salaries and legacies are on the line because the league is addressing a problem that does not exist. For one, award voters already consider how many games players play when casting their ballots. Zion Willamson played as well as anyone in the league during the 2022-23 season. But since he missed the final 44 games, there was no way he was going to be voted to an All-NBA team.
The NBA airs multiple nationally televised games per week. Last season, it averaged 1.59 million viewers per primetime game, and its seven Saturday night ABC games averaged 2.8 million viewers. In this television economy, maintaining that type of stability is not commonplace. Per a 2023 Sports Media Watch study, NBA primetime television ratings have fluctuated between 2.5 and 1.5 million viewers since the 2002-03 season.
While the NBA product is not perfect, there was no need for an overhaul. And there was certainly no need to mess with player contracts to try to juice ratings for one of the steadiest programs on television.
Haliburton is 100 percent right. This guy is taking a star turn this season and as he becomes more of a household name, a bad hammy might cost him $40 million. Also, last year’s MVP now needs an MRI to evaluate the damage caused by a blow to a knee that was already on the injury report.
The NBA is a professional sports league. Players make a living by participating in physical activity. A season can last eight months. To win an NBA Championship, a team has to play 82 regular-season games, and after that, at minimum, be victorious in 16 out of a potential 28 more in the spring. Seeds 7-10 in both conferences participate in a Play-In Tournament before the playoffs begin.
What the NBA won’t discuss is shortening the regular season, or maybe even going back to a best-of-five in the first round of the playoffs. During Magic Johnson’s rookie season, the Los Angeles Lakers played in three best-of-seven series to win the championship. That never gets brought up when discussing how players in the past didn’t have such a problem with the schedule even though they flew coach.
There are all kinds of ways the NBA could improve the regular-season viewing experience. The conclusion that it landed on was to reach its hand into a rising star’s pocket.