The NBA sucks, and one of the biggest culprits is load management.
This year, Kawhi Leonard has faced criticism taking games off for what the team calls “load management,” a way of disguising rest days that were banned before the 2017 season. He did this with the Raptors last season an extensive amount, but Leonard has by no means been the only or the first on to do so. LeBron James, who recently came out against load management for himself this season, famously took rest days in 2016 while he was with the Cavs. Kristaps Porzingis, Russel Westbrook and other stars have already taken days off this season, however, Leonard has been the most prominent and done so the most often this season.
Load management days hurt the fans, and there’s no way of getting around it.
Imagine buying a ticket to a Clippers game just to see Leonard, who is debatably the best player in the NBA right now, play. Imagine taking your son or daughter to the game because they love Kawhi and have always wanted to see him play, planning your whole day, week and even month around the game, only to show up and find out that he’s taking the day off. It ruins the experience of going to the game.
Because Leonard took a day off for load management, fans don’t get to watch what they paid for, just like what happened on Nov. 6 when he didn’t play versus the Bucks, even though his last game was on Nov. 3. Sure, it sucks for Clippers fans, but they have 41 chances (and more because of when they are “away” versus the Lakers) a year to catch a game that Leonard actually plays in, but for other fans around the country, they might only get one or two chances to watch him play.
That’s what happened on Oct. 30, when Leonard took the day off when they were visiting the Jazz, one of just two games they will play in Utah this season. If you bought a ticket just so you could watch him, too bad, I hope you can make it to the game on April 7, and even then pray he doesn’t take that day off as well – it’ll be the Clippers fifth-to-last game of the season, so they very well could be resting him for the playoffs already.
It also hurts the networks, who spend billions of dollars to air NBA games. Both the Utah game and Milwaulkee game were scheduled in primetime, after all, the Jazz and Clippers are two of the top teams in the West and the Bucks are one of the top teams in the East. Who doesn’t want to watch Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Jingles and the Jazz take on Leonard and the Clippers, and Kawhi versus Giannis is must-see-tv. But Leonard didn’t play, and those hyped-up matchups never happened.
Last week, when Leonard sat out versus the Bucks, I saw a tweet that really stuck with me, one that summed up the problems with load management into one concise sentence. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was essentially: Why should I care about the regular season when the players don’t?
So how do we make them care? We make the playoffs smaller.
I’ve thought for a long time now that having 50% of the league make the playoffs is dumb. It allows mediocre teams to make the playoffs when they have no real chance of winning, and more often than not the seven and eight seeds get swept in the first round by the one and two seeds.
I’m proposing that the NBA eliminate the seven and eight seeds in each conference from the playoffs, giving the one and two seeds a bye just like the NFL.
But what does this have to do with load management?
Well, Kawhi doesn’t have to care about the regular season because he knows that the Clippers are a top-half team in the West. As long as they make the playoffs, which they will, he’s golden, because once it comes time to play postseason basketball, all bets are off. Then, he can finally turn on the jets and try to power the Clippers to the finals.
But if there’s only six teams that make the playoffs from each conference, the regular season becomes a bit more important. Sure, the Clippers are easily a top-six team as well, but it’ll make them sweat just a little bit more and make it slightly less of a shoo-in.
Now, there’s no chance this goes through because it would cost the NBA a considerable amount of money to eliminate a couple of series from the playoffs. For now, I guess we’re just going to have to deal with more regular season basketball where the best players don’t have to or sometimes even care about playing.
We’ll let people keep buying tickets to watch their favorite players play and then show up to find out they decided to watch this game from the bench. We’ll let the networks keep scheduling marquee matchups and then have them just never happen because one player who is making $32 million this year needed a third day of rest.
Before I end this, I want to touch on one part of load management that is different than my general stance. Earlier in the column, I said how LeBron has come out against load management for himself this season, but he does believe that it should be used at the AAU level – a take that is absolutely right. In these cases, high school and even younger kids aren’t being paid a dime for their work. If they want to take a day off to preserve their future and prevent their coaches from running them into the ground, more power to them.
But the pros, who, as Michal Jordan put it, get paid to play the full 82 games, have to take no days off – especially with the league already putting an emphasis on eliminating back-to-back games. If you’re an athlete who’s making tens of millions of dollars to play your sport, then play it.