Load management is a hot topic amongst NBA fans. It seems that the older watchers of the game tend to disagree with the idea while newer fans are more tolerant. NBA players are seen as assets much more than they used to and every team wants to keep their coveted money makers as healthy as possible. On November 7th, 2019 hosts Sharp and Shapiro took to the radio to talk about the issue.
Shapiro opens up the discussion:
“The reason I bring up load management, JD, it involves the NBA and yesterday it involved Kawhi Leonard. This is positively and utterly ridiculous. Kawhi Leonard, as you know, is arguably the best player in the NBA if not a top 3 player. Regardless of whether he is top 15, top 10, or top 50 that is not the point. The point is they were playing the Milwaukee Bucs, it doesn’t matter who they were playing, and a letter was written to the NBA asking that Kawhi sit out because they don’t want him to play a lot of minutes in back to back games. The NBA concurred and he sit out.”
Shapiro proposed this question:
“And why is that you think?”
“Well, they claim they don’t want him to have him aggravate that knee injury. Now a lot of people on social media are saying, ‘thank you coach Popovich for allowing this to happen now on a regular basis’. Here’s my opinion. I think they are just giving him a rest. The same reason why they rested Lebron James and the same reason why they rested some of these super stars and Popovich stared that whole thing.
“Or the same reason the NFL only has a game once a week. They get 6 days of rest. The same reason that when a pitcher pitches they have at least four days of rest as required by Major League Baseball.
Shapiro offers a rebuttal:
“Different sport different circumstance.”
I remember that resting became part of the national headlines in 2013. Popovich made national headlines when he decided to rest both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in a televised game against the Warriors that caused a lot of controversy. Tony Parker also missed that game due to a shin contusion. The Spurs actually won that game, which was their first nationally televised game of the season, 104-102 due to inspiring performances from Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, and Marco Belinelli. Since that moment, the NBA has been left to answer questions from angry fans as teams all around the league rest their players on numerous games throughout the season.
I would agree that every sport has different parameters surrounding rest with players. Basketball is not nearly as psychical as football. The human body is not meant to make contact like players in the NFL do and even then there are countless injuries in every football game. The only valid argument you could make against load management is with hockey. The NHL has 82 games and heavy physical contact is a major part of that sport and yet their players do not rest. The biggest difference between hockey and basketball is that there are four lines in hockey. Players are not playing nearly as many minutes on a nightly basis. For example Golden Knights star player Mark Stone only played 17 minutes and 34 seconds against the Ottawa Senators on January 16th, 2020. The current structure of the NBA has proven to be too hard on today’s players. There are way too many back to backs that not been beneficial to the league in any way. The general stigma around the game is that the team is going to play sluggish and the quality of the game is going to be lower. While I may not enjoy seeing star players sit out in big games I understand why they do it.
JD talks about why he believes athletes should be rested:
“You have high profile athletes. High level athletes running up and down the court for 40 to 42 minutes every other day. When Kevin Durant comes back from the injury next year and plays for the Nets, he’ll get the exact same treatment. I think he deserves it. Those injuries are a big deal. This is their 30 million per guy. They are probably going to be the first seed it doesn’t make a difference.”
“With all due respect that sounds likes a millennial opinion. Are you telling me in the 80’s Larry Bird , Magic. Johnson, Michael Jordan took rest on back to back games? Guess what they had back to back games back then. Why didn’t they take any rest? They were taking trains to games.”
Is it crazy to say that Larry Bird could have played a much longer career with load management? Would the league not have benefited from seeing Larry Bird play longer and healthier at the expense of taking a few games off during the regular season? No one remembers the exact games that players take the night off. The NBA season is 82 games long. The idea that load management is ruining the NBA is a fallacy. I would hate to see key players miss the playoffs because they were forced to play games against teams like the Suns or Pistons. The post season is reserved for seeing the best players in the game at the height of their prowess. That inherently means that they can’t play 40 minutes every game over the course of the season. If the NBA wants to really address the problem then they would extend the season out longer. They would make sure that teams play an average of 3 games a week. That would ensure that players are getting ample rest and the ability for their muscles to properly recuperate.
In my personal opinion, the real issue is youth sports. Kids are starting competitive AAU basketball way too early. They are pressured at such a young age to compete. The strain they are putting on their bodies is causing severe injuries when they reach the league. They are not getting the time to develop before being thrown into an 82 game season. There needs to be a new set of laws addressing this problem. I believe this is the reason we see so many more ACL tears compared to when athletes like Charles Barkley played. They weren’t playing serious competitive basketball until they got to high school. The system is borderline criminal and I believe this principal applies to all sports.
JD Brings up an important point:
“You saw what happened. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant went down within a one day span in the NBA playoffs. You saw what happened with the Warriors franchise. The Warriors franchise was scud missiled and now it’s one of the worst franchises in the NBA.
“Kevin Durant came back too soon. That is a completely different circumstance and that has nothing to do with load management.”
Load management had a lot to do with the downfall of the Golden State Warriors. There may be no better example then their 73 win season. By the time they made it to Finals they had more energy left. That season is the perfect example of what taking every regular season game seriously results in. Everything broke down in the 2019 and the 4 straight Finals appearances caught up to them. Their subpar load management caused that team to break apart. That was the complete opposite of what we see from the Toronto Raptors who handled Kawhi Leonard near perfectly. He played a solid 60 games that season and was the definitive best player in the 2019 Finals.
“Let me ask you a question then. To a family then that picks a game. They might only go to one or two games a year. They pick the game on their schedule which is the Milwaukee Bucs versus the LA Clippers in LA. It is arguably the best team in the east I would say and that’s the game that everybody marks down on their calendar. Giannis versus Kawhi. Arguably two of the best players in the league. A family decides to spend 600 to 800 dollars of an income of maybe $40,000-50,000 a year. They show up to the game to find out that Kawhi Leonard is not playing not because he’s hurt but because he wants rest.”
A better question is how foolish would the Clippers would look if they forced Kawhi Leonard to play in an important regular season game when he should have been rested and he wound up injured? How fun would the Clippers be without Leonard for a large portion of the season? How about if he missed the playoffs? I believe that would be a catastrophe. The internet is a bottomless pit of information and it is usually very easy to see if a star player is going to be rested. I don’t want to ruin any family’s day but the NBA is much bigger than a single game during the season. I want to maximize the career of the league’s best players and make sure they are healthy enough to play their best in the playoffs. Think about how the history of the league could have changed if the Clippers cared more about load management for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Load management is a necessary evil in today’s game.