Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard has changed the NBA over the past year in more ways than one. Signing with the Clippers, and convincing them to trade for Paul George is one of them. The other? Introducing the NBA to load management — a term used for players who are sitting out games for non-injury related issues in order to preserve themselves for the postseason.
Leonard played in only 60 games last season, and while he was in fact dealing with lingering injuries, the Toronto Raptors strategically didn’t play him in a lot of back-to-back games in order to preserve him and not burn him out before the playoffs started. It worked, because Leonard and the Raptors were hoisting up the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. This isn’t exactly a new thing Leonard introduced — star players have sat out games for rest over the past few years on numerous occasions — but now there’s an official term for it, and it has everyone taking sides on the issue.
Knicks coach David Fizdale recently said “we gotta get off this load management crap” after it was suggested that perhaps playing No. 3 overall pick RJ Barrett 41 minutes in a 21-point loss to the Sacramento Kings is too much. Fizdale isn’t the only one who feels that way about load management. though. Even Michael Jordan thinks resting players today is a ridiculous idea. According to Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford, the former coach of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan himself made it very clear that there were no off games for the players on that roster.
“Our guys aren’t used to sitting on the second game of a back-to-back. We’re not sitting guys just to sit,” Clifford said via The New York Daily News. “For me, my background frankly, it all goes back to expectations. Being with Michael in Charlotte, Michael used to tell them every year, you’re paid to play 82 games.”
Clifford then agreed with Fizdale about load management, as well as how he’s managing Barrett’s minutes. While the words didn’t come from Jordan himself, the six-time champion played eight times in his 15-year career, including in his final year with the Washington Wizards when he was 39 years old.
This topic on sitting players for pure rest has become a polarizing topic in the NBA community, with coaches and players falling on both sides of the debate. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo recently said he’s no fan of load management, even when the Milwaukee Bucks front office approach him with the idea of taking a few nights off in order to keep him fresh throughout the season.
Last season, Leonard showed that taking nights off to preserve his body worked, and it is something the NBA will likely see more of as the years go on, unless something drastic happens, like shortening the number of games in a season or eliminating back-to-backs altogether. Until then, players like Leonard will continue to do what’s best for their bodies in order to lengthen their playing careers.
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