This past February, LeBron James sat out a highly-anticipated televised matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Last week, Kawhi Leonard sat on the bench while his LA Clippers took on the Utah Jazz. It was the first of two back-to-back games and NBA fans were somewhat puzzled how someone paid around $33.8 million a year could be benched, presumably costing the Clippers around $412,000, give or take a few dollars. It all comes down to this year’s NBA buzz phrase – load management.
The Load Management Concept In The NBA
Load management isn’t exactly a new concept – it’s been around for more than a decade. However, it hasn’t really gotten attention in the NBA until this year. Players have been complaining about being overworked and stretched too thin, which can lead to injuries in the NBA. While the science may be sound, old-school basketball fans want to know why, all of a sudden, it has become an issue.
Seemingly out of the blue, but in reference to load management, Michael Jordan said about a week ago that players are “paid to 82 games.” This was a direct dig at load management and the fact that he perhaps feels the league has gone soft. Jordan isn’t the only one, but, more and more, team owners are looking at the overall value of their players and allowing a star to sit out a game is insurance that he’ll be able to play ten more.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of those that supports load management. He told reporters this past Monday, “The problem isn’t load management, per se. I think teams have to be smarter about when to load manage. I’m all for load management. Worse than missing a player in a [regular-season] game is missing him in the playoffs.”
When Leonard sat out of the game against the Jazz, the NBA figured it was due to load management, and issued a statement explaining the acceptance of the team’s decision. It stated, “Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league’s resting policy and, as such, is listed as managing a knee injury in the LA Clippers’ injury report. The league office, in consultation with the NBA’s director of sports medicine, is comfortable with the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”
However, after Doc Rivers later told reporters that Leonard felt “great,” the NBA decided to slap the team with a fine. Apparently, even the NBA has difficulty understanding what load management means.
Players can’t complain – they still earn a salary even if they’re not in the game. However, being the competitive champions they are, they want to be in and help take their teams to the finish line.
Load management is nothing more than a way for the NBA to compensate for overworking players. Dr. Marcus Elliott, who founded and directs the Peak Performance Project, asserts, “The ballistic nature of the sport today combined with the density and length of the season means that the loads placed on these players are really close to what their bodies can manage. NBA players are getting really good at these movements — high force over short duration — but they’re tough on the body.”
Not only are players asked to give 110% on the court every time, they are also expected to stay active off the court. That’s needed so they can stay in top physical condition to prolong their careers and, when they’re not in a game or practicing or working out, they’re contributing to communities, per the NBA’s guidance, in order to foster the next generation of players.
Players are suffering because the NBA is cramming too many games into too small a space. The league should consider alternatives, such as a longer season or fewer games, if it’s really that concerned about player health. Anything else, and it’s just trying to put up a smokescreen to appease the masses while raking in as much revenue as it can.