The league as we know it is far from how it was back in the day. On one end, the game has evolved to a level of play that has never been seen before — players are more skilled, stars are coming in from all over the world, and more. However, on the other end, numerous controversial concepts have also been introduced to the NBA. One of these concepts is load management, which has been a burning issue in the league in recent years. So, what is load management in the NBA? Let’s find out!
What is Load Management in Basketball?
In basketball, the term “load management” refers to the strategic resting of players by teams to conserve energy and minimize the risk of injuries. The term can be broken down into two words — load and manage. Load refers to the physical aspect of the game that is exerted during practices, games, and other basketball activities. This “load” is the one being managed by deliberately picking when a player can play and when they can rest.
Contrary to popular belief, load management is not just about resting superstars against bad teams and letting them play against good ones. Load management involves closely monitoring a player and assessing how long they can play a game or if they can even play. Of course, the end goal is to win as many games as you can and work on your players’ conditions in time for the playoffs.
The practice of load management is a testament to the rigorous schedule and physicality that the NBA demands from its players. NBA players are professionals, which means that even though they are physically ahead of the whole world, their careers can end in a snap of a finger if they’re not very careful. In the long run, it’s all about finding the balance between longevity and success.
When Did Load Management Start in the NBA?
Contrary to popular belief, the concept of load management has been around for a long time, not just in professional sports but also in the medical community. However, to say that the term “load management” was popularized by a certain NBA player is not a wrong statement. This player is none other than Kawhi Leonard, who notoriously skipped games despite not having a detrimental injury. As the years went by, more players and their respective medical teams started strategically resting and managing their overall load to survive the 82-game regular season.
Kawhi Leonard infamously load-managed the whole of the 2018-2019 season in order to preserve his body and avoid injuries that may set him back in the playoffs. And, whether you like it or not, Kawhi won a championship that season and played the best post-season of his career.
Issues and Criticisms Surrounding Load Management in the NBA
To be fair, load management was created with good intentions and has proven to be a big help for injury-riddled players. However, the concept of load management has faced a lot of criticism, especially when a lot of superstars started to abuse it a little.
For example, the effect of load management on the fans has been unexpectedly big. Because of load management, many fans- counting those who save precious money to watch NBA games- are not treated to the all-out experience of seeing their favorite superstars in a game.
The competitive balance of the game is also heavily affected by load management. If a team’s superstar rests for the night, obviously, the team won’t be as good as they’re supposed to be. A team with a superstar resting on a bench will probably lose if they’re up against a healthy team with playing superstars.
The media is also affected by load management, particularly in broadcast revenue. National TV broadcasts are pre-booked before the season with the assumption that the selected games would generate viewers for the network. However, if superstars rest instead of playing on TV, viewership will most likely go down.
What is the NBA New Player Participation Policy Rules?
Load management has become a serious issue in the past few seasons — serious enough to elicit a response from the league already. By the 2021-2022 season, the NBA introduced a new Player Participation Policy to curb the effects of load management. The new policy outlines the expectations from teams with resting superstars. Here are some of the key details of the load management NBA rules:
With the new policy, teams are expected to communicate the availability of key players, especially before big matchups. This means that teams are supposed to commit whether a superstar is playing or not at least a day before tip-off. In this way, the media and the fans can prepare ahead of time and manage expectations coming into the game.
The new policy also emphasizes the importance of timing when managing the load of superstars. For example, when a team is about to go up against a strong team and play in a high-profile game, they are expected to field all healthy players. In this way, the NBA is ensured that the games are played competitively.
To be fair, load management isn’t exactly banned from the NBA. While the practice has caused several issues, load management is still medically right in most cases — the league acknowledges this. With this, the new policy encourages teams to prioritize home games instead of away games when resting superstars. Resting for consecutive games is also discouraged.
Consequences for Violations
Any team who is deemed to be in violation of the Player Participation Policy will be fined by the league. The consequences and fines for violating the policy ultimately depend on the severity of the case. In extreme cases, teams may even be stripped of draft rights.
Wrapping Things Up: What is Load Management in the NBA?
Load management is the practice of resting players to preserve their bodies and aid them in recovering from or preventing injuries. While the concept of load management is medically sound, a couple of teams and players have seemingly abused it to get additional rest or evade playing against low-stakes games. This has affected fan engagement, media revenue, and the overall competitiveness of the league. Fortunately, with the new Player Participation Policy drafted by the league, teams are now asked to be more conscious and communicative with load management. At the end of the day, load management is here to stay, but it is now up to our favorite teams and players to uphold its integrity.