A term you may have heard flying around the NBA in recent years is “load management.” More basketball teams are using it than ever, and it could change the way teams manage their players’ workloads and rest schedules. But what exactly is it, and how effective is it? Let’s take a closer look at this growing trend.
What is NBA load management?
In a piece on the phenomenon of load management, GQ described it thusly:
“Its logic is simple: The first 82 games are an often meaningless slog and the playoffs are what really matters; having key players in peak condition for the postseason becomes a team’s highest priority; and because players are mere mortals whose bodies register wear and tear, giving them time to rest and recover becomes a no-brainer.”
Load management means strategically resting a team’s best players so they’re able to provide optimal performance when it matters most. By protecting players from injury during the regular season, the teams essentially assign a higher value to postseason games.
Think of a player like LeBron James. He’s been playing professional basketball since he was 18. He’s now 34 years old and has played 1,215 regular-season games and 239 postseason games.
Registering all those games is sure to leave him tired no matter how well-conditioned he is. By picking and choosing the games he plays in, a team will maximize the chances of him making it to the end of the year.
How have different teams employed load management in recent years?
Three teams are famous for using load management in the past:
- The Los Angeles Lakers, last season, using it with LeBron James. It ended up not mattering as the Lakers did not qualify for the playoffs.
- The San Antonio Spurs. When Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker were still playing effectively late into their careers, coach Gregg Popovich rested them often during the regular season. One time it led to a fine.
- This season, the Los Angeles Clippers are practicing it with Kawhi Leonard.
There haven’t been any studies conducted on the effectiveness of load management. While it may not always lead a team to a title, it’s hard to say it’s a bad practice.
What can NBA teams do?
On one hand, load management is good for keeping players (particularly stars) healthy. It helps disperse the energy the players give out over a more reasonable slate of games.
No player can stay healthy and give 100% over the course of an 82 game schedule plus playoffs. At some point, they’re bound to tire out. Load management helps deal with that. That’s the positive aspect of it.
The negative aspect of it is that it cheats NBA fans out of seeing the best players on any given night. Imagine being a fan of an Eastern Conference basketball team who purchases tickets to see your team’s only game against the Lakers at home only to realize LeBron isn’t playing. It feels almost unfair to the fans who shelled out hundreds of dollars for tickets, parking, and concessions.
There’s a remedy to this situation that the league should enact but probably won’t. Quite simply, the league needs to schedule fewer games in both the regular and postseason.
The 82 game schedule forces teams to travel too often, meaning players don’t get as much opportunity for proper sleep in between some games. The constant travel can wear on their bodies.
By switching to a 65 or even a 75 game schedule, you still give the fans plenty of regular-season action while sparing the players the need to sit. Cutting back a few playoff games — possibly by reverting the first round to a best of five series — could also assist.