The battle of La La land renews Thursday night when the Clippers take on the Lakers for the first time this season. This has recently been a critical matchup in the NBA, especially in Los Angeles. But reports have already surfaced that Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, who’s returning from an ACL tear that forced him to miss all of last year, could come off the bench to begin the season as a way to “manage” his minutes.
That’s not an issue, as many players who return from more severe injuries are on a minutes restriction when they return to action. But let’s be honest for a second. We know where this is going to lead. Leonard has been the poster child of load management and once played for load management’s poster team, the San Antonio Spurs. But hey, if you can get away with it then do what you need to do. I’m not begrudging Leonard for doing what he’s been allowed to do for years.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver comes out every year and talks about managing players’ minutes, but nothing has changed. We constantly hear about how today’s athletes are so much bigger, faster, stronger, and more skilled in the NBA. Yet, no one seems to care about playing an entire 82-game schedule.
In fairness, it isn’t every player, but load management usually comes up with star players, who have the ability and freedom to pick and choose when they play. But that’s who fans go to see — the stars in the NBA. Over the past few years, a shortened NBA season has been thrown around, and Commissioner Silver addressed that over the summer.
“I’m not looking to shorten the season, but it’s a conversation we should all have,” Silver acknowledged. “What’s optimal in terms of a number of games on a player’s body? Let’s be
realistic about that.”
Sure, it’s a conversation that needs to happen, but unless the NBA can continue to get the same money from their T.V. partners, it won’t happen anytime soon. Professional sports is still a business, and the association is just trying to make a few billion bucks like anyone else. I believe the commissioner wants to do away with load management, but we’re so far along at this point it’ll be tough.
A couple of years ago, the league added the play-in tournament as a purgatory-like setup between the actual playoffs and hitting Cancun in April. So far, the play-in has provided some exciting moments, like LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry two tournaments ago, but it’s nothing more than a money grab. Play-in teams have little hope of advancing past the first round once in the playoffs.
Now the NBA is looking into adding a midseason tournament on top of making the play-in a mainstay. Another attempt at more revenue is fine, but none of this feels like it will incentivize players to play more. Even if you remove 10 games from the regular season schedule and add this tournament, that doesn’t create much rest time. It depends on how many teams are in this tournament, although it sounds like a bandaid with dollar signs all over it.
Silver and the league’s office don’t have a clue about how to tackle this load management issue. The bottom line is that he’s let it happen far too long, and turning back now is nearly impossible. I don’t see the NBA reducing the regular season schedule by more than 12-15 games. They’d lose too much money in that process. But you can’t talk about taking a few games away only to add an in-season tournament like these guys are back in college or high school.
For PR purposes, Silver probably has to speak out against it publicly and act tough. Still, in reality, anyone who follows this league closely knows who runs it. It’s called a players’ league for a reason. When Robert Sarver was accused of throwing stereotypical slurs at nearly every minority group in America, Silver acted like there was little to “nothing” he could do. The players had to speak up, and that got the ball rolling. Now, Sarver is on his way out. In 2014, players threatened to boycott after a Donald Sterling recording leaked, in which Sterling said he didn’t want his girlfriend bringing black people to games, before Silver banned him and forced him to sell the Clippers.
However, in this situation, Silver will need to stand on his own two feet to find a way to rid the league of load management. Players want this, and many have adopted it as a regular part of their regimen during the season. Although it’s not just the players. Many teams seemingly encourage it, taking a page from the San Antonio Spurs playbook.
Silver has expressed his thoughts on the origins of load managing:
“There’s nothing more frustrating also for our fans than having players, frankly, who aren’t injured following some program schedule for rest. I’m looking at [Spurs executive] R.C. [Buford], you started this all. That isn’t clear, at least to me. Whether it’s serving a useful purpose. So figuring out a way to create that right healthy balance.”
Silver knows the deal, and he knows coaches, general managers, and owners are just as much to blame as the players. If the commissioner really wants to stop this, he probably could. If he cares about the fans’ enjoyment of the game, he’ll step up to the plate and get this worked out. Otherwise, it’s time to quit talking about it and accept this as the league’s reality.