Being an NBA player can look fun, however it is stressful and tiring. Players have exhausting travel schedules, switching from different time zones, practicing, and playing the game. Players need to rest and take care of their bodies to minimize injury, which is why coaches sometimes rest players during games. This is called “Load Management.”
Load Management has been a controversial topic in the NBA for awhile. While it has proven to be an effective strategy for teams, fans are unhappy with it. When you have a superstar on your team like Lebron James or Kawhi Leonard, they can attract a lot of fans to your games. When fans buy a ticket they expect to see their favourite superstars play, and when they find out that the player is resting, they are pretty upset.
As a result the NBA doesn’t like the idea of load management either. The league has said they will fine teams $100,000 for resting healthy players during nationally-televised games. TV networks ABC, ESPN, and TNT are also upset, as after the 2015-2016 NBA season, they signed a $24 billion contract with the NBA for the streaming rights, so when a star player sits out, their ratings go down and they lose money.
This is especially a concern this season, which is struggling to achieve ratings.
Still, for the teams, there is a clear incentive to rest their players, even if it makes the fans upset, as their number one goal as an organization is to make it to the playoffs and win the championship. When teams load manage a star player, they help reduce their risk of injury. The Toronto Raptors demonstrated how effective this could be during the 2018-2019 season. The Raptors rested Kawhi Leonard for 22 games during the regular season, and when the playoffs came around Kawhi was in good shape. Whereas the Golden State Warriors, whom the Raptors faced in the playoffs, fell apart with injuries to their star player. A healthy Leonard brought the Toronto their first championship.
Although the league is fighting against load management, this is no doubt going to continue to be a point of contention with teams since the stakes are so high and the benefits of load management are so simple and clear.
As Gregg Popovich, one of the coaches known for load managing stars like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard said, “I sat players out because I wanted those guys to have longer careers.”
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