Weighing the Pros and Cons of Load Management

In recent years, National Basketball Association (NBA) stars such as Kawhi Leonard have sat out prominent games of the regular season; and under the speculation of fans and teams, his team has cited the ambiguous reason “load management” for his absences.

In recent years, National Basketball Association (NBA) stars such as Kawhi Leonard have sat out prominent games of the regular season; and under the speculation of fans and teams, his team has cited the ambiguous reason “load management” for his absences. Load management deals with limiting a player’s minutes or even resting star players periodically throughout the season to eliminate any lingering injury concerns. Leonard, reigning NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) and current forward for the Los Angeles Clippers, has been in the news for load management controversy, sparking debate across the sports world as to whether or not load management should be a frequent as it is cited in the NBA.

Even though load management does not rest well with fans, its apparent contribution to winning makes it a reasonable thing to do. While the entertainment aspect is important in the NBA, the ultimate goal of a team is to win the NBA Championships and that certainly comes with strategic management of minutes. For Leonard, by resting in increments throughout the regular season, he was able to play every single game of the playoffs, averaging 39.1 minutes per game to carry the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title. In comparison, James Harden, who in last year’s regular season, averaged 36.1 ppg in 78 games, saw his numbers drop to 31.6 ppg in the playoffs. As his performance decreased, his team, the Houston Rockets, also reached a roadblock at the Western Conference Semi-Finals. If load management results in better success in the playoffs, organizations should not be forced to play its best players if it does not want to.

In addition to the aspect of winning, teams should pursue long term success and that comes with load management preventing recurring injuries. For stars like Derrick Rose, who fell from the youngest league MVP to almost getting dropped by the league with recurring injuries, one must wonder if load management could have preserved his career. Playing close to full games over the span of the entire regular season with the Chicago Bulls, Rose tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) two times and has since never recovered to his previous stardom. Without Rose’s brilliance, the Bulls have not found success in the postseason ever since. Similarly, Kevin Durant tore his Achilles in last year’s Playoffs after being thrown back into a game weeks after a calf injury and will be sidelined for the entirety of the 2020 season. Risking injury for the sake of playing time, Durant gave up a valuable year of his career, and without his presence on the Brooklyn Nets, the team has not been great so far in the season. At the end of the day, no matter the demands of the other teams and fans, the ultimate goal of a team is to protect its players, and nothing matters more than the health and longevity of a franchise.

Ultimately, the NBA is a source of entertainment that produces a nightly product for its international audience. By allowing teams to rest its star players in nationally televised games, the NBA is greatly diminishing the entertainment that its fans are paying for. Fans are effectively being cheated out of the money they are using to pay for tickets, as the average fan is not content shelling out hundreds of dollars to watch stars like Leonard, the reigning Finals MVP, only to find out hours before the game that the game will be significantly less competitive and feature obscure bench players in Leonard’s place. Not only are fans in attendance hurt by load management, but also ESPN and TNT, who have a $24 billion television rights deal with the NBA, lose viewership on marquee games where players end up resting. In addition, individual teams are harmed as well, given that team ticket sales and revenue take a hit in load management situations, as research by the MIT Sloan Management Review showed that secondary ticket prices dropped between 5 and 25% after the team announced a star was sitting. Overall, the financial implications of widespread load management make it an issue which the NBA must address.

Many former NBA players share the stance that the NBA must take action to regulate or eliminate load management. Even though the 82-game regular season is physically taxing on current players, former players were able to manage playing the majority of the marathon-like season without modern-day health technology and medical practices. In addition, the NBA has made modifications to the schedule each year so that it is more favorable for players’ health by minimizing the number of back-to-back games as well as long road trips. It is in these games where most players are prone to injury because the fatigue from consecutive games as well as lack of sleep and recovery time from traveling the night before are all detrimental to player performance and health. If players decades ago were able to make it through the entire season without today’s more favorable schedules and more advanced training staffs, then players today should be able to do the same.

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