It goes without saying that James is a physical anomaly. This is far from breaking news. But assuming that Father Time will come for James at some point, you might think the Lakers would be taking precautions with him. He has played in every one of the Lakers’ 27 games, but he is playing under 35 minutes a night for the first time in his career — barely, at 34.6. His 25.9 points per game are the second most by a player in a season he turns 35 — second only to Alex English’s 26.5 for the Nuggets in 1988-89.
On Sunday, even as the Hawks were threatening, James got a fourth-quarter break which has become standard procedure. He played slightly above his average at over 36 minutes, but the Lakers have no strong desire to overwhelm him in a game when he doesn’t need to play every second. “My line of demarcation is play him as little as possible to get the win. And just try to keep a smart number in mind,” Vogel said. “Obviously there’s times when we’re going to go over it but I think if I can get him averaging 34 minutes I think that would probably be the ideal situation.”
LeBron James re-iterated Sunday night that he has zero interest in being load managed in Year 17. “If I’m healthy, then I’m gonna play,” James told reporters after posting 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in the Lakers’ 101-96 road win against the Atlanta Hawks.
The NBA has said Leonard is not healthy enough to play on consecutive nights because of an ongoing left knee injury. That hasn’t kept the Clippers from being heavily criticized for their “load management,” with ESPN broadcaster Doris Burke among the most prominent voices to question why Leonard sat out nationally televised games earlier this season.
“It’s funny how everyone talks about these back-to-backs and they’re making it better and then they do this,” Rivers said. “It’s the exact opposite of what everyone said they’re trying to do. And then you have the Doris Burkes of the world complaining about guys’ load management and then the network they work on are the ones that are changing the game times.”
“We’re talking about trying to keep players out of harm’s way, and it’s the exact opposite of what we’re doing,” Rivers said. “If you play at 7 you shouldn’t play before 7 the next [day]. I’ve always said that. This is like a 22-hour time change difference and plus we have to travel. So it’s really a tough one but no one’s going to feel sorry for us tomorrow, I can guarantee you that.”
Logan Murdock: Steve Kerr reasoned that Draymond Green earned the right to have rest days because he’s played five straight seasons into the Finals. So I asked if the same logic applies to him as a coach. His response: “The coach does not receive the same treatment unfortunately.” pic.twitter.com/I7y1sl7dpw
Chris Haynes: Los Angeles Clippers will hold Kawhi Leonard out of tonight’s game against the Indiana Pacers with knee maintenance.
Jovan Buha: Kawhi Leonard (injury management — left knee soreness) is out vs. Memphis tonight, the team announced.
The league values such planning. They contacted the Clippers in the offseason and asked if the team had any general road map for when Leonard might sit out, sources said. The Clippers replied that they could not provide one at that point. In the end, all these decisions -- whether a team may rest a healthy player in a game normally subject to the resting policy, or whether a player designated as "injured" truly is injured -- can be sent as high as Adam Silver, the league's commissioner, for approval. "We are not getting gamed," Spruell said.
The league also has allowed for some wiggle room on what constitutes a "high-profile" national TV game, sources said. A game on NBA TV might not be the same as a game on ESPN or TNT. A Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans game without Zion Williamson and most of Golden State's foundational stars might no longer qualify as "high profile" -- providing teams more flexibility in resting healthy players.
On a semi-related note, the NBA and its broadcast partners -- ESPN included -- have recently discussed the possibility and feasibility of more aggressively "flexing" out scheduled national TV games that do not look as appealing in light of injuries and team performance, sources said. Some mega-teams -- the Lakers, for example -- will never be flexed regardless of injury. On some national TV nights, there are few alternatives on the schedule.
Derek Bodner: Joel Embiid, asked whether his limited minutes due to foul trouble might help keep him fresh for tomorrow night's game against the Heat: "Load management. That's some BS...I'm tired of sitting. I just want to play."
Cayleigh Griffin: “We always consider load management with James, but he can carry a huge load.” - Coach D’Antoni on Harden and how he does not want to take a game off
Fred Katz: Brooks said Beal didn’t do much yesterday in practice and won’t tomorrow “so the load management is gonna be alright” after Beal played 42 minutes tonight.
Rose: "It was just a different time in the sports world, period. Now we have the term “load management.” I don’t think that I would’ve taken it as far as Kawhi, as far as like they’re really being cautious about his injury or whatever he has. But if load management would’ve been around, who knows? I probably would’ve still been a Chicago Bull by now. But it wasn’t around."
When he played 40 minutes and 44 seconds in a 21-point loss to Sacramento earlier this month, David Fizdale bristled at a question about the possible strain on Barrett. Where some saw overzealousness from the head coach in bringing the rookie back into the game in the fourth quarter with nine minutes remaining — and 34 minutes of wear already on Barrett — Fizdale saw no reason to question him. “He’s got the day off tomorrow,” Fizdale said in a pique. “We gotta get off this load management crap. Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid’s 19 years old. Drop it.”
Jonathan Feigen: Tyson Chandler to get night off for Rockets vs. Blazers after playing the back-to-back. Hartenstein to be backup center.
Now, it’s cutting out some shootarounds entirely. Through Donovan’s first three seasons in Oklahoma City, the Thunder coach had a borderline religious devotion to the gameday morning ritual that’s slowly dying around the NBA. Call it the Thunder’s way of “load management.” “I think when people immediately go to the stat sheet and say, ‘Oh my God, that guy played 38 minutes tonight,’ … I think everybody looks at the minutes played per game and they think, ‘Oh, load management,’” Donovan said. “But they don’t understand all the other things that lead up to that, too.”
That changed against the Sixers on Friday. Paul played the entire fourth quarter and all five minutes of overtime. The Thunder were plus-11 in those minutes. Does Paul get those minutes if the Thunder has a shootaround that morning? The Thunder didn’t have a morning shootaround Friday and instead chose to have a walkthrough at the arena later a few hours before tipoff. Not having a shootaround is another way to manage the workload of players. “There’s also load management around practice, shootarounds, schedule, travel … that all plays a factor into it,” Donovan said.
Playoff-bound teams rest players at the risk of losing games or even home-court advantage... as do lowly ones like Memphis, which rested 20-year-old rookie Ja Morant for a weekend home loss. I've got an idea! Play fewer games! Oh, right, that would mean less revenue and lower salaries. That's one thing that unites owners and players: No one wants that.
Dane Moore: Russell Westbrook now officially ruled out of tonight’s matchup with the Timberwolves. Westbrook is resting the second night of the Rockets back-to-back. There will be a lot of Ben McLemore and Chris Clemons for Houston in Westbrook’s absence.
Cuban believes load management is a good way for teams to preserve their stars for the playoffs. He suggested that in the 1980s and ’90s the quality of basketball was hindered by fatigue, with the league’s top players near exhaustion when the postseason arrived. “Worse than missing a player in a game is missing him in the playoffs,” he said. “And if you go back to the days where guys played 42 minutes a game and there were 10 guys in the league playing 40-plus minutes, the quality of the game wasn’t nearly as good. We gave them a hard time about being worn out or saving themselves for the fourth quarter, and now all the data says you maintain their usage levels over the course of the season with rest, so you’re seeing guys playing 36 minutes, which is a lot.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich began the practice of load management several years ago, giving aging veterans Tim Duncan and Tony Parker nights off. Cuban said Popovich wasn’t exactly trying to be an innovator, it was gamesmanship. “Pop was doing it just to [mess] with people,” Cuban said. “Now it’s all data-driven. Let’s just do it to mess with the league and our meal ticket, the fans, and just do something just because it might be interesting. We spent so much money on not just analytics but biometrics to know how smart we could be.”
Mark Berman: Mike D’Antoni says Clint Capela out tonight and tomorrow night. Danuel House out tonight, 50-50 tomorrow. Says Russell Westbrook will probably be out tomorrow for load management. Says Ben McLemore in the starting lineup tonight. pic.twitter.com/eez9WdBdBG
Micah Adams: Clippers are 0-3 in games without Kawhi. Raptors went 17-5. I’m not saying it’s significant. But it’s not insignificant.
However, maintains Fergus Connolly, a sports science expert and author of “Game Changer: The Art of Sports Science,” using load to assess injury risk has challenges. “The first challenge is that it’s hard to accurately define load,” Connolly says. “Is it a number defined by the previous game, or is it the chronic level for a season?” Connolly adds that it’s impossible to assess load by one simple number, formula or metric. The calculus of load is not only different for each player but also is a moving target that varies by time of season, age and even by opponent. Kawhi Leonard’s load tolerance today is surely different than it was five years ago, in ways that are difficult to understand. “It’s like painting by numbers when you don’t have all of the numbers,” says Connolly, who has served as a performance director in the NFL, “And trying to fill in those gaps with incomplete data.”
Says Tim DiFrancesco, former head strength and conditioning coach for the Lakers: “Even if we can come up with a number that measures on-the-court load or stress, we don’t know what might be contributing to load off the court — lifestyle stressors like travel, sleep or family problems.” When looking at injuries, in any sport, there’s the idea that a range of injury exists, from “not preventable” at one end, to “preventable” at the other end. Some injuries — Aron Baynes falling on Stephen Curry’s hand, for instance – are difficult to foresee and impossible to prevent. Those injuries have little to do with load and a lot to do with luck.
Without that constructive stress, muscles, tendons and ligaments might not be ready to take the demands of running, jumping and cutting for 82 games. Players coming off the bench, thrust into a starting role, might actually be at greater risk of injury than starters, at least if they haven’t been regularly hitting high intensities in practice. “For me, load management is more about what a player does to prep for the load of the season,” emphasizes DiFrancesco, “and sitting on the couch and resting might actually leave a player less prepared to handle load. Because of that, it’s likely, when a player sits out a game, he might have instead done a focused workout that day.”
Ben Fischer: WarnerMedia Chair Jeff Zucker on NBA ratings weakness this season: “I think the combination of injuries and sitting out has been an issue, and I think that’s concern, and hopefully that will get addressed over time.... "I think the league has some influence over teams and i would like them to exert that influence." WarnerMedia Chair Jeff Zucker on load management in the NBA. #SBJSMT
Tim MacMahon: Doc Rivers says he expects Paul George to make his Clippers debut tomorrow in New Orleans. Will Kawhi Leonard play on the second night of a back-to-back? “I don’t know yet,” Rivers said. “That was a good question. Nice try.”
Gary Washburn: Isaiah Thomas says he took the bullet for players playing injured that has helped create “load management” and encourages players to do whatever it takes to preserve their health. #Wizards #Celtics pic.twitter.com/yGSKWQXWNp
Amid the ongoing debate about resting players in the NBA, count Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban among those openly willing to support load management. "The problem isn't load management, per se," Cuban told reporters in Boston on Monday. "I think teams have to be smarter about when to load manage. I'm all for load management. Worse than missing a player in a [regular-season] game is missing him in the playoffs."
"It's all data-driven," Cuban said. "We're not going, 'OK, let's just mess with the league and our meal ticket to fans to do something just because it might be interesting. We spend so much money, not just on analytics for predictive reasons, but also for biometrics so we know how smart we can be. "The dumb thing would be to ignore the science."
Cuban said that while it might be frustrating to see players on the bench now, it all pays off in the postseason. "You actually get more of your stars [in the playoffs]," Cuban said. "You get shorter rotations of more of the guys playing in the playoffs, which is what you want to see anyway, right?"
Kyle Neubeck: Joel Embiid’s status for tomorrow will be updated by tomorrow’s 1 pm deadline, Sixers say. Read between the lines on that one
February 1, 2023 | 11:31 am EST Update
But league sources say the Hawks have no shortage of trade interest in Bogdan Bogdanović as well — as in “half the league is calling” type stuff. The 30-year-old guard has a player option for $18 million next season, so most teams would understandably view him as a short-term rental (with the hopes of re-signing him if he opts out). To this point, the Hawks haven’t shown much interest in moving him. Capela could certainly help most teams and would yield a good return, but he continues to have the kind of chemistry with Young that likely means he’s going nowhere. If you somehow haven’t noticed, it’s quite important for this iteration of the Hawks to maximize Young’s powers.
Young isn’t going anywhere. The same goes for Murray. Collins is the most likely one on the way out, of course, and it’s worth repeating that the asking price is known to have decreased significantly from recent years (per league sources, there is a focus on landing a quality player, or players, in return but no mandate for a first-round pick). That development is clearly a reflection of the focus on salvaging this season, as opposed to recouping the vast assets lost in the Murray trade with San Antonio in the summer. As we’ve reported recently, the Jazz and Rockets are known to be among the teams in pursuit.
This past October, Abdul-Jabbar — on his Substack page where he discusses and offers opinion on a variety of topics, often nothing to do with sports — that when James passed Kobe Bryant for No. 3 on the all-time scoring list in 2020, he “knew it was just a matter of time before he passed me too.” Abdul-Jabbar wrote that every time a record is broken, all people are elevated. “When I broke Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record in 1984 — the year LeBron was born — it bothered Wilt, who’d had a bit of a one-sided rivalry with me since I’d started doing so well in the NBA,” he added. “I don’t feel that way toward LeBron. Not only will I celebrate his accomplishment, I will sing his praises unequivocally.”
Riley coached Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles and later lured James to Miami for a four-year run starting in 2010. He sees in James much of what he saw in Alcindor when that bus pulled into Schenectady in 1961. “It’s all about LeBron right now, and it should be, with his unique career and unique opportunity to do this,” Riley said. “Training, travel, personal chefs, personal trainers, all that stuff has come into play since Kareem. I hope people realize Kareem’s story as well and how different it was. He went to college for four years; LeBron came out of high school. But they both dominated from Day 1. They both turned potential into greatness from Day 1.”
“I was just like whatever,” Mazzulla said. “I was at dinner with my wife and a few friends, so I had more important things going on at the time.” But Marcus Smart knows that’s not true. Mazzulla loves to play coy in front of the cameras, but he flips the switch behind closed doors. “Bulls—. Bulls—,” Smart said of Mazzulla’s attempt to play it off. “It says a lot, it’s just the humble mentality that we have. We got a lot of great guys, from coaches and players, that could sit here and boast about themselves about everything they’ve accomplished and things like that, but that’s not us. We love each other, and we let all the outside noise do the talking for us. But it definitely means something to Joe, and it means a lot to us for him to do it.”
Bobby Manning: Horford on Joe/ASG: “It doesn’t matter to him, but it’s a big deal for us .. it’s impressive how he’s been able to take the helm and lead us through this path. At the beginning of the season, it just wasn’t easy. All the unknowns .. he’s not celebrating, I’m celebrating for him.”
Monty McCutchen attributed the missed call to “a lack of fundamentals” from the referees involved. As James drove, the baseline referee, Jacyn Goble, was in motion in an effort to gain the best angle. While Goble’s intentions were good, the end result left him in a position where he was unable to clearly see the foul. “We want our referees in a still position,” says McCutchen. “We want movement to be purposeful, meaning, ‘Oh, someone stood in front of me. I need to make a definitive step to the left one step.’ But we can’t allow ourselves to get into rapid movement at the same time that the play is coming to a head.
McCutchen says he is confident the issue that led to the missed call in Boston can be corrected and that referees will work tirelessly to be in the best position to get every call right. “It really is impactful to referees to miss calls,” says McCutchen. “They’re not flippant about it. They don’t leave with a lack of remorse. But you have to move on. You have to get to the next game. That doesn’t help the teams that were aggrieved. We understand that. But we have to continue to pursue excellent work even up against our imperfections. That way you turn one call and you sort of nip it right there instead of turning it into a progression of bad calls.”