As we have entered the new NBA Season, a major theme that continues to dominate is that of Load Management. Primarily tied to Kawhi Leonard, Load Management is the purposeful, short term resting of players throughout the regular season to help avoid long term exhaustion and injuries for when the postseason arrives. It’s an interesting concept that has been around for years. I want to examine it and see whether or not it is good or effective for the game of basketball.
Off the court, fans are against this because they feel that they are being ripped off from seeing their favorite players play. Imagine buying a ticket for a game, in the hopes of seeing someone play, but instead, he is resting because he doesn’t want to take a chance of getting hurt. I get that players and teams want to prevent injuries, but it has to be frustrating and disappointing to see them resting. Media has a similar attitude, but rather it’s due to constant comparisons to greats in the game from years ago. That said, all of today’s players are under constant scrutiny for not being similar to past players. Even retired players agree that healthy players should play the game.
The question that arises then is to why it happens? Let’s dig into this a bit deeper. It seems to me that in general, we are finding more and more injuries in sports these days, whether it’s on a court, a field, a ring or ice. Why is that? One reason I would say is that we know more about our bodies and are therefore stronger, faster and smarter than that of generations past. There are more machines and workouts in the gym, more natural supplements to take and more styles of workout that our bodies have become bigger and packed with additional muscles. As someone that exercises daily, I have learned so much over the past 5 years about which exercises to do, when to do them, how often to do them and when to eat/drink in order to enhance those muscles. Back to sports, however, these are super athletes, so their muscles and bodies are obviously far superior to mine. Players exercise a lot and probably spend as much time working out as they do in the basketball gym working on their shot/defense/rebounding, etc. As a result, there’s also a chance for more breakdown. Specifically tied to basketball, crossover dribbles, behind the back passes and other moves with the basketball happen more frequently which all put people’s bodies in awkward positions on a daily basis. Scouting is another major part, as now opposing teams know the tendencies of certain players and teams and can easily adapt to defend. Therefore players are working harder to break through the already planned line of defense.
Another factor for breakdown is due to basketball being a more global game with so many people. Approximately 20-30 years ago, and then some, it was not a popular sport around the world. Take a look at the Dream Team of 1992, as opponents half the size of USA’s team were asking for autographs pre-game and were merely happy to be there. Nowadays, all around the world, players are competing, sometimes all year round, to earn a chance to play in the NBA. Competition is fierce and people put in a ton of time and effort to make it….and don’t. The problem is that this isn’t happening just with young adults though….it is happening with children too. LeBron James recently was outspoken about the problems of AAU for basketball for kids. He has his son Bronny playing basketball and is quite good at it. Essentially what he said was that the AAU doesn’t care for the well being of these kids. Youths will have tournaments where they are playing MANY games in a day, which is unfortunate. Children are growing and developing physically, but by no means is playing that many daily games good for them. However, parents (and these kids) know the system and understand that if Child A wants to sit and rest, someone behind them will take over and get their spot and take over. It’s a vicious line that they have developed where kids either don’t feel comfortable asking to rest or have too much adrenaline that they don’t understand that they NEED to rest. Essentially the point of all of this is that by the time these players enter the NBA, they have logged so much time and energy into basketball, their bodies may not be properly developed at a natural pace/way and they might be exhausted from doing so.
So bringing it back to the NBA, Load Management was “invented” (if you will) by the Spurs a few years ago. Greg Popovich would rest his top players (such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and the aforementioned Kawhi Leonard) during the regular season, specifically with back to back games, much to the scrutiny of the fans. He wanted to give his best guys a rest. The NBA caught wind of this and actually fined the Spurs. That said, it didn’t deter them and they continued to do so. Other players, throughout the years, have done this on a smaller scale, resting players such as LeBron James, the odd time to give them a rest.
To play devil’s advocate for a minute, there are some points for Load Management. First of all, it works. The Spurs were very successful with their postseason runs as they had fresh players coming into the playoffs, and always were competitive when they entered the playoffs. LeBron James always led his team, when fully healthy, to a LONG playoff run, winning a few titles on the way. Kawhi Leonard looked great last season leading the Raptors to their first-ever championship. So, to say it’s ineffective is just plain wrong. Look at how worn-out players like Russell Westbrook and James Harden are come the playoffs. Secondly, this sort of thing happens in other sports all the time. Baseball is notorious for this, as many teams sit an offensive player for rest on a weekly basis. Why is it part of the norm there, but looked negatively upon here? Finally, the NBA must have thought that t was an important topic because this season and beyond they have eliminated many back to back games, to help alleviate the physical nature of the game.
Do I have a solution? Sort of. My answer to all of this would be to expand the active rosters from its current number of 17 up to 20. Why? This would allow coaches and players to strategize in a different way. Instead of deciding ahead of time to sit for an entire game, teams could limit the minutes a player plays while using other players in their place to help win a game. This would allow for a player, like Kawhi, to play two nights of 17 minutes each game, instead of 34 one night and 0 the next. I don’t think expanding the season and eliminating all back to backs is the answer, because then the NBA would be almost 10 months long. I also don’t think forcing a player to play is the right call because if injuries reoccur, there could be long term ramifications.
What do you think about this? Let me know down below.