Kawhi Leonard is at the center of the most popular debate in the NBA right now. After Kawhi sat out a nationally televised game against the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Milwaulkee Bucks, everyone had an opinion on whether ‘load management’ is good or bad for the league. Some took the side of the players, saying that the 82-game season is too long and too hard on their bodies, and that it’s better to keep players healthy for games later in the season, and to have healthy stars for the postseason. However, there were others who looked at it the other way, and argue that players signed contracts to play 82 games a year, and shouldn’t need to rest as often as they do. This is just another example of the way the NBA has changed this decade, and another way for players to evolve the game into something better.
Load management in the NBA is considered a problem because it keeps the star players off the court when they don’t have to be. The NBA doesn’t like that because fans are less likely to watch the game if the best players don’t play. It’s already hard enough to pull viewers away from other sports early in the basketball season, but it’s even harder to pull them away when the best players sit. Many have also gone on to ask why they sit out at all. Players from previous generations played every single game they were healthy. Michael Jordan is against load management, as former Hornets coach Steve Clifford will tell you. He said that Jordan told his players that they’re paid to play 82 games. The past two MVPs, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, have both said that they won’t take games off for load management. According to them, if they’re healthy, they will play. This seems like the logical and normal things in most sports, so why are some NBA players starting to stray from the norm?
Because there have been so many devastating injuries to some of the league’s best players in recent years, there has also been an improved awareness around the league about player health and tough schedules. That led to the NBA changing the schedule to not having teams play as many back-to-back games. Now, some players and teams are taking that change to the next level, picking certain dates for different players to rest and get an extra night off. Reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard believes that taking games off for rest is what allowed him to win the title in Toronto last year. It’s a way for players to turn a one-day break into a four-day break just by sitting out one game. It also decreases the likeliness they get injured, which is good for the league because no one wants to see the best players in the world sidelined for a long period of time. For players like Kawhi, it seems like a win-win. The best players are more likely to stay healthy, and it’s better for their bodies.
Load management was not talked about in the NBA for a very long time. It was just always expected that the players played every game they possibly could, every single year. Now, as some of the same teams are making it to the finals year after year, the effects of the long seasons, that seem to get longer each year, are more noticeable. While sitting nationally televised games out for rest may not be the best solution, it is not fair to the players to ignore their long-term physical health in the process of the season.