How One Proposed Rule Changes Load Management
In a time when NBA awards season is beginning to heat up, so too is the talk around a brand new rule that could make things interesting for who wins the hardware. Shams Charania reported yesterday that the NBA and National Basketball Players Association are discussing a new rule stating that “a player must play in a minimum number of games to be eligible for major awards.” He gives an in-depth look into discussions here:
“According to sources with knowledge of both sides of the discussions, while both sides still need to come to an agreement on the number of games that players would need to play in order to qualify for awards, the two sides do agree on the concept. There’s already one precedent that the parties can point to, where a player must appear in at least 58 games to qualify for the league’s scoring title.”
-Shams Charania’s reporting on the yesterday’s “The Bounce” newsletter
The proposed addition impacts an equally important trend and now beckons the question, “If a minimum-game requirement for awards is adopted, what does that mean for load management?”
Background on Load Management and its Narrative
Before diving into what this rumored change could mean for load management, it’s important to take a step back and examine both the concept and the way it’s discussed.
The Player’s Perspective
With criticisms of load management growing by the week, Steph Curry addressed the issue in a postgame press conference back in January (h/t NBC Sports):
“I usually campaign to play every game. That’s the misconception about load management and how it goes. It’s never the player that is usually saying, ‘Hey, I want to sit.’”
Charania’s recent reporting also mentioned the player perspective on load management and how teams are the ones sitting players, not the players themselves:
“In Friday’s meeting, players such as New Orleans Pelicans guard and NBPA president CJ McCollum and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul spoke about how the load management issue sometime stems from teams wanting to have players sit either to preserve them, to manage the schedule of games or to satisfy potential organizational goals for the season — a description with which team personnel such as coaches and executives agreed.”
From this stance, it appears load management has become a larger factor than anticipated for the players. For the league, the “missed games” factor has become such a prominent topic that it has impacted the future of deciding end-of-season awards.
The Media’s Perspective
The Athletic recently held a roundtable with some of its NBA reporters — David Aldridge, Sam Amick, Joe Vardon and John Hollinger — to discuss if load management was becoming a problem in the league, particularly in a season where injuries are skyrocketing and high-profile players are resting in December and January as opposed to later in the season (e.g. March or April).
Joe Vardon covered league commissioner Adam Silver’s All-Star weekend press conference, which came when most All-Stars either sat out a significant portion of games or were missing the coveted weekend entirely due to injuries.
Silver defended load management by suggesting “there is ‘medical data’ to support the current practice…throughout the league” and “[disagreeing] with the notion that too many players — especially stars — were sitting out of games without injury.”
Vardon argued against Silver’s claims:
“Is load management solely responsible for this phenomenon? Of course not, but it is a factor. And it exacerbates the overall problem (which, I get it, may sound counterintuitive — load management is meant to prevent further injury) because fans tuning into the average national TV game, or worse, who paid for the tickets, are already asked to accept the days and weeks of their favorite player being out because they’re actually hurt.”
He, along with Amick, Aldridge and Hollinger, went on to bring up valid points explaining how problematic the practice has become, whether it was questioning where the data Silver is referring to came from or suggesting a change in the league’s messaging around load management.
They have given an expanded outlook to an issue that has impacted the NBA in recent years. With that in mind, it’s equally important to bring up how load management (and its narrative) affects the on-court product for the fans.
The Fan’s Perspective
For my podcast a couple weeks ago, I interviewed first-year Emerson College student Brendan McNamara, the starting point guard for the men’s basketball team and an avid NBA fan (specifically, of the Celtics). One of the topics that came up in our discussion was the topic of load management and the conflicting narrative around it.
“I don’t like the narrative of how the players are the ones perpetrating this,” he said. “I do like that it’s being talked about, because I think it is important. I’ve been reading a lot and listening to JJ Redick’s podcast, and he was saying [that] sometimes, it’s out of the player’s hands. The training staff, the team has a lot of control over who’s playing which night or if they want to rest guys and keep them fresh.”
“I’m glad it’s being talked about, but I think it is a bit of an unfair narrative”
“I also think [the game] is so up-and-down that it takes a toll,” he added, citing the league’s recent offensive explosion. “The way the game has become, some of these older guys are going to take some load management, and it’s a smart move on behalf of the coaches, GMs or teams who are making these decisions to keep their guys fresh come playoff time. I’m glad it’s being talked about, but I think it is a bit of an unfair narrative that the players are the ones who are willingly sitting out games.”
The Potential Rule Change’s Effect
As teams have proven before, there is no harm with resting players who are recovering from injuries. Athletes want to be at their best when performing night in and night out, but they can’t do so if their bodies are constantly being willed to the limit for 30–40 minutes a game over the course of an 82-game season (and for most players, beyond that).
The suggested change goes beyond injury management, though, seemingly targeting teams who abuse the practice instead of using it for valid reasons. It takes the issue of load management head-on and has notable implications towards the practice and the narrative that comes with it.
The NBA and NBPA are encouraging players to play more games in order to take home some trophies — an idea that has received mixed reviews.
Going back to The Athletic article, the reporters discussed this very issue when it was in its early stages. Hollinger, in particular, blasted the proposal:
“If this isn’t the dumbest idea to come out of their negotiations, it’s definitely on the short list…More seriously, it feels like this entire mindset is putting the onus on the players and making it sound like they’re the problem, when basically the entirety of the load management era has been driven by the teams.”
Vardon added to Hollinger’s point, saying, “It is counterintuitive to literally everything else Silver, most teams and players say about load management. If it’s not phony, if teams are holding players out to protect them from injury, why in the world would the NBA pursue incentive for players to play more? It suggests they aren’t playing as much as they should.”
As Vardon noted, this concept of games played being tied to awards does suggest the potential for a decline in load management, even though the commissioner and others were singing its praises just last month.
If the change does take effect, it will create even more problems with going about load management and player health. As mentioned earlier, both sides are aware of the issues load management presents throughout the season. The inclusion of this rule could force teams to have tough conversations. Do they rest players for their own good? Or do they allow them to play to not only help their team’s season, but increase their case for winning an award or two? Injuries are a main concern in the NBA, but if the change is implemented, the pressure of playing games to meet requirements for awards will hang over everyone’s heads, shifting the ideas around load management significantly.
The proposed game requirement is another cog in the wheel of narratives around the Association, one that load management is at the center of. The decision whether or not to implement this rule will ultimately determine how the practice moves forward, but don’t expect the discourse to die down anytime soon.