The problem with load management is that it's ... the right path

A weekly dive into the NBA’s hottest topics.

1. The regular season is too long

The most poorly named term in the NBA has also become its most annoying: load management. Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters Kawhi Leonard would be sitting out the first game of a back-to-back against the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers, a practice Leonard started in Toronto and has apparently — to the consternation of many hoary old men on TV — taken with him to Los Angeles. 

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The science of rest is still nascent, but here are the relevant facts: Kawhi Leonard was healthy last year (playing 60 regular-season games), and the Raptors won a championship. Sure, there was a chance that Leonard would have stayed healthy even if he played all 82 games, including back-to-backs, but that’s like saying someone who eats Big Macs and guzzles soda every day could theoretically live as long as your yoga instructor.  That’s the problem with the debate over rest: The results are treated as ambiguous when, in reality, players who carry a heavy load and don’t suffer from major injuries are the exception — not the rule. Did Michael Jordan — everyone’s favorite comparative measure — play a lot of minutes and not rest many games? Yeah. He also didn’t play in an era where star players drop like flies every season. 

What's the big deal about getting some rest? (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
What's the big deal about getting some rest? (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arguments against load management pine for some impossible past and leave out the fact that, no matter what, few stars are playing more than 80 games a season — it’s a matter of whether they sit out voluntarily or involuntarily. 

The regular season is just too long. I’m hardly the first person to say this, but we’ve truly reached a head here. It has long been teetering toward meaninglessness, but the emergence of load management and the discussion around it risks turning it into a farce, generating news stories that inevitably paint players as uncompetitive when, in reality, it’s the opposite.

The league even doubled down on the absurdity, essentially fining Rivers $50,000 for admitting Leonard was healthy because if he hadn’t, logic dictates the league would have to punish Leonard for sitting out. As commissioner Adam Silver put it on tampering, there’s no point in having rules that aren’t enforced. The responsibility for fixing this should fall on the league, because the crux of the problem is this: The structure of the season incentivizes basketball players to not play basketball. 

2. Speaking of generating news stories ...

Fox Sports’ Skip Bayless unloaded the hot-take cannon when it came to whether LeBron James could defy actuarial tables, but the truth is there’s only one logical answer to the question: “Has Player X lost a step?” 

Obviously. It may be a minuscule step in the case of James, and it may be mitigated by increasingly rigorous recovery regimens (and load management!), but every day that we are alive, our step loses a little pep. The question is asked every year and can only be answered — logically, at least — in one way, setting aging star athletes up to “defy the haters” and “beat Father Time”, until the one year they actually can’t. 

You’ll never believe what happened next.

LeBron notched three straight triple-doubles and mocked Bayless’ moniker for him — #WashedKing — on Twitter and everyone involved learned nothing. Same place, same time next year?

3. Eric Bledsoe’s system glitch 

Imagine every moment of your professional life, every mistake you’ve ever made, being televised. There are obviously more dangerous implications for that than Eric Bledsoe dribbling onto the court instead of inbounding the ball, but the innocuousness of it highlighted the sheer absurdity — an absurdity we have normalized — of spectator sports.

We really watch every high-stakes moment of these guys’ careers, and even the Truman Show has its glitches. Everyone’s brain spazzes out from time to time. You spend 10 minutes looking for your glasses and realize they’re perched on the tip of your nose. You walk into a room and forget why you went there. Bledsoe basically did that on national TV. 

4. Speaking of generating news stories ...

Nothing suggests Anthony Davis won’t re-sign with Los Angeles, where everything seems to be going swimmingly. But the Lakers were in Chicago, where Davis grew up, so naturally a reporter asked him if his impending free agency could mark his official homecoming.

Aside from the fact that star free agents only ever flirt with the Bulls before signing elsewhere, Davis really didn’t say anything that justified the impending firestorm. “Obviously there is nothing like playing at home,” he said. “I don’t know. I am a free agent next year. ... We’ll see. It’s a possibility.”

Duh. Short of denouncing his hometown and signing a contract extension (that can’t even be offered yet) on the spot, it seems like there is nothing Davis can do to avoid speculation

5. Joel Embiid is definitely getting suspended again

Last week, the NBA handed a two-game suspension to Embiid after his tiff with Karl-Anthony Towns, less than a month after Embiid announced that he was “done” trash-talking for good. Last night, he returned to action and told reporters he was never going to get suspended again. (Callback!) You’ll never believe what happens next. 

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