Load management is the new scourge of the NBA.
Or the new blessing of the NBA, depending on your point of view.
The strategy has come under scrutiny in the last year or two, but it’s not really that new. Teams have conserved their stars’ energy whenever possible for years. They just didn’.t have a fancy name for it.
This season, the Los Angeles Clippers already have sat Kawhi Leonard twice in their first seven games.
Conversely, the Lakers have not sat LeBron James at all in seven games.
To each their own, right?
So far, the idea of strategically sitting a player to not overload him during any stretch of the regular season hasn’t been an issue for the Mavericks. They have yet to play a back-to-back set of games, although that will change Friday and Saturday when they are at home against New York, then visit Memphis.
Coach Rick Carlisle, not surprisingly, wasn’t divulging how he will approach that set of games with regard to Kristaps Porzingis, Luka Doncic or anybody else.
“I’m not going to talk about three games from now,” Carlisle said before Wednesday’s Seats For Soldiers game against Orlando. “That’s a karmically flawed way to deal with stuff. But we look at everything very closely. I’ll leave it at that.”
He also was very direct on why load management is such a critical issue during this era of the NBA. And not just for older players. Sitting Dirk Nowitzki on nights when he’s 40 is just common sense. But it applies to all elite athletes, he said.
“It’s not necessarily my philosophy, it’s what our organization’s philosophy is,” Carlisle said. “We monitor it very closely on all of our players. These guys now wear GPS (devices) during practice that track all that information. And to my knowledge they are not wearing them in games yet, but at some point that will happen.
“And it’s important information. A professional athlete has to be treated in a certain way. We look at it very closely. I’m constantly talking to (director of player health and performance) Casey Smith about the structure of our practices, how certain guys are doing, etc., etc. In my view it’s not something you can write off as analytic rhetoric. That’s not what it is. It’s real. And we try to stay on top of it.
“We have a very serious topic here, and we don’t take it lightly.”
If coaches and management can figure out ways to extend a star’s career by making wise decisions about how much he plays during the regular season, the philosophy makes sense.
Of course, fans who pay for seats expecting to see stars on the floor sometimes leave disappointed by a coach’s decision to sit said stars. Not much anybody can do about that.
Interestingly, Orlando coach Steve Clifford, who spent five seasons as Charlotte’s head coach before getting the job with the Magic, said load management is something that is a matter of perspective.
He told the story of training camps in Charlotte when team owner and former player of some renown Michael Jordan would address the team.
“Michael used to tell them every year, you’re paid to play 82 games,” Clifford said. “We’re not sitting guys just to sit. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and playing 82 games used to be a badge of courage for a lot of guys.”
He then added a very undervalued part of the rest-conditioning dynamic.
“Players don’t train in the offseason to play 82 games like they used to,” he said. “That’s just a fact.”
That’s another reason why load management is a fact of life these days in the NBA.