The NBA sent a memo to all 30 organizations this week instructing teams not to use the phrase “load management” to describe an injury, as Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today details in a series of tweets. According to the NBA’s memo, “load management” is a permissible description of a player’s absence only if he’s missing a game due to rest under the league’s resting policy.
The Hawks, who had been listing Chandler Parsons as out due to “load management” during the first few weeks of the season, adjusted their approach on Tuesday, according to Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal Constitution (Twitter link). Parsons’ new designation was “injury management (bilateral knees).” We can probably expect the Clippers to make a similar change to Kawhi Leonard‘s injury-report description the next time he sits.
While the NBA’s latest request may seem arbitrary or semantic, it reflects what a delicate subject load management has become for the league. It’s one of the “most debated, least understood” issues in basketball today, according to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and Kevin Arnovitz, who go into detail on the science and the goals behind load management programs.
“It is rare to find a sports scientist or performance specialist who believes that the NBA season doesn’t require some attention to load management to assure that a player has a chance to be at peak performance in the postseason,” Pelton and Arnovitz write. However, the ESPN duo acknowledges that while teams have more data points available to them than ever, interpreting that data “is still an art” rather than a hard science.
As load management continues to be a popular topic of discussion in the basketball world, here are a few more items related to the phenomenon:
- Ethan Strauss of The Athletic surveyed executives, coaches, and players around the NBA in an attempt to determine the best fixes for the load management problem and received a variety of responses. Reducing the amount of games in a season or stretching the season to create fewer back-to-back sets was the most popular answer in Strauss’ survey. One agent also suggested teams should make an effort to rest players during non-national TV games and make their plans clear as soon as they know them.
- WarnerMedia chairman Jeff Zucker said this week that he’d like to see the NBA be more proactive in addressing “load management” games that coincide with national TV broadcasts. (Twitter links via Ben Fischer of SportsBusiness Journal). “I think the league has some influence over teams and i would like them to exert that influence,” Zucker said. TNT falls under the WarnerMedia umbrella, so Zucker obviously has a vested interest in stars suiting up for marquee games.
- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban came out strongly in favor of load management this week, calling it “the best thing to ever happen to the league,” as Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe tweets. While fans may be frustrated to see star players sitting in regular season games, Cuban argues that it increases the chances of keeping those stars healthy for the most important games in the spring. “You actually get more of your stars [in the playoffs],” Cuban said, per ESPN. “You get shorter rotations of more of the guys playing in the playoffs, which is what you want to see anyway, right?”
- Lakers star LeBron James believes that young players could probably benefit from “load management” – or at least more favorable scheduling – at the AAU level, as he tells Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. “A lot of these [AAU] tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man,” James said. “I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”