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Pay cuts can shorten NBA season, but who can afford it?

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr shouts in the direction of an official late in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr shouts in the direction of an official late in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Steve Kerr always was the most reasonable guy in the room. The Golden State Warriors coach seemed even more so when he told reporters he would be willing to take a pay cut in order to reduce the number of NBA games.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” he said prior to a game last week, “even at the expense to my own salary, but it’s something that everyone would have to agree to. I think even just going down to 75 games, I think that would make a dramatic difference in schedule. Now I don’t see that happening because there is money at stake for everybody.”

Otherwise, great idea.

Kerr’s suggestion of cutting the schedule by almost 10 percent, or seven games, is apparently something he can afford, but he might be the only one. Some of the richest people on earth — as well as the regular people — would have a big problem with that.

Playing time has become the story of the year in the NBA. That’s because teams have been sitting stars at an unprecedented rate. And they’re not apologizing. Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue last week rested stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. That was a week after the Spurs and Warriors met in a crucial pairing, yet each sat several stars.

At the same time all this was happening, NBA commissioner Michael Silver was firing off a letter to league owners, warning against losing credibility with fans and sponsors, who pay high prices for tickets. Silver went on to say the league meetings on April 6 will feature major discussion on the topic, and there will be “significant penalties” for teams that ignore rules.

Everyone knows the NBA schedule is brutal and nobody wants to see playoffs with top players injured. So the obvious fix is to shorten the season. Kerr could lose approximately $427,000 of his $5 million salary if seven games were shaved. For James, that would equal about $2.64 million in reduction. He can afford it, with a $31 million salary.

Or can he?

It would seem obvious multimillionaire players could afford pay cuts to preserve their bodies, but they often can’t. The famed Sports Illustrated story of 2009 said 60 percent of NBA players go bankrupt within five years of retirement. They spend huge sums on cars, homes and luxury items, but also on child support, alimony and expenses for friends. Soon they’re in bankruptcy court.

The old saying about spending what you make was never truer than in professional sports.

Haunting stories like the one of former player Robert Swift — broke, evicted and living with his parents — occur regularly. Charles Barkley gambled away $10 million, Eddie Curry took out a loan at 85 percent interest, Antoine Walker supported 70 people, and Shaquille O’Neal tipped a waiter $4,000, according to various reports.

But even if players did agree to earn less, the other problem is the TV networks. They too would earn less if they broadcast fewer games. Consequently, so could a production assistant at TNT, or the public relations chief for the Wizards. Team or network employees, living in expensive cities, could pay the highest price if there were reductions. Those people don’t start out with millions.

Meanwhile, executives such as Cleveland general manager David Griffin are unapologetic about resting players, saying the end justifies the means. Fresher legs in April could mean a deeper playoff run.

One solution to a shorter season and less revenue would be to simply raise ticket prices and arena signage rates. Wonderful. Fewer games but higher prices. That would go over like a case of hives.

Despite an unprecedented amount of money in the league’s new TV arrangement, the NBA may yet conclude what almost every other business in America has already faced: You can’t work less and get paid the same. Any kid with an allowance can verify that.

The sad part is that peripheral people would get no more time off, but maybe a smaller paycheck for their trouble. Blowing millions and claiming poverty is one thing, but working for a regular salary, every day, is something else. They’re not taking care of their images, they’re just taking care of their kids.