NBA Rumor: Load Management

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“Obviously, every game matters, but we’re competing for something that’s [bigger]. We don’t ever want to shortchange our stuff,” James said before the season. “For me personally, that’s a fine line with me, but understanding that it’s a shortened season. … The offseason is going to be the shortest season for any professional sport ever. We’re very conscientious about what we’re going to do going forward as far as me personally.”

In a memo sent to teams by the NBA Monday morning, the league laid out resting policies for the 2020-21 regular season — including granting significant flexibility to teams resting players in non-nationally televised games, particularly at the start of the season. The memo, which was obtained by ESPN, says that flexibility applies to teams playing back-to-back games and presents examples of possible scenarios, including, “to rest a key veteran player who played a substantial role on a team that advanced deep into the 2020 Playoffs, or to rest a player who is still returning to full strength after recovering from COVID-19.”

Welcome to HeatCulture 2.0, then – the kinder, gentler version that gets the same results without nearly the collateral damage. Erik Spoelstra may sneer at the term “load management,” but what Miami has done with its player usage this season has been a lot more Spursy than anything they’ve tried in the past. Truth be told, the hardcore #HeatCulture has been almost #Cancun-like in terms of the minutes demands on its best players. This carries over from the regular season, too. No Heat player ranked in the league’s top 30 in minutes per game. Butler led the team at 33.8, and he missed 15 games for assorted reasons that were definitely not load management so we won’t call it that. Most notably, he only played in four of Miami’s eight seeding games, and one of them was a 15-minute cameo.

Even beyond the overall level of opposition rising significantly as we move through playoff rounds, the exploitative nature of repeated games against the same opponent can change the value of various skillsets. Players who thrive on mistakes can lose effectiveness once those mistakes go away. Predictable tendencies become more easily schemed, specific limitations attackable; witness Chris Paul seeking out opportunities against Robert Covington at the end of Game 6. Covington is a wonderful overall defender who excels in most areas of team defense, but sometimes struggles to contain ball-dominant scorers in one-on-one situations. We don’t have a great model for which types of players tend to fade in this environment, and it is likely that there is a mix of traits which are simply less valuable in the playoffs regardless of opposition, while other situations where the specifics of the pairings turn certain matchups into a bad series for this player or that.

Being smart, Cash, the Pelicans’ vice president of operations and team development, knows better. What happens with the Pels in Orlando does not matter when weighed against the next 10 years – at all. No one in the Big Easy will give a damn in three years if the Pelicans rally to the eighth spot in the west now if Williamson is healthy and beasting opponents in 2023. So keeping him on his current pitch count designed by the team’s medical staff will continue to be official club policy, no matter what it does to New Orleans’ postseason hopes, and no matter what NBA Twitter says. Kowtowing to the “microwave mentality,” as Cash puts it, is franchise suicide. And she’s been far too accomplished in her career to recommend giving in to the will of the moment.

Christopher Hine: Wolves statement on the fine: “The Timberwolves accept the league’s fine for resting D’Angelo Russel on the February 23 game versus Denver. While we respect the league’s guidelines and standards, we are a player-centric organization that’s focused on learning our players’ bodies. As a new player in our program, we chose to rest D’Angelo in order to learn his body better and to optimize his health during a difficult stretch of games and travel.”

According to Clippers sources, that’s precisely why they refer to Leonard’s situation more accurately as ‘injury management.’ As The Athletic reported in early November, the fact that Leonard was not considered a “fully healthy player” meant he would sit out as often as the doctors advised this season. Sources say the medical advice, at present, still mandates that he not play in back-to-back games — hence the fact that he sat out against the Hawks despite the fact that the team was already without two other key players.

And Vogel was hired, in part, to enable James. So enable him he did. It’s not a bad plan. As James goes, the Lakers tend to go. On Wednesday, the Lakers were +3 in the 39 minutes he was on the floor and -8 in the nine minutes he sat. The Lakers’ inability to maximize their non-LeBron minutes is extra problematic given the late-night report from ESPN that James may be forced to miss games coming up after aggravating a groin muscle issue on a collision with Beverley in the first quarter. “I’m always around the clock with my body, getting my treatment,” James said. “If I’m feeling great, I’ll be in the lineup. If I’m feeling well I’ll be in the lineup. But like I said, we’ll see what happens.”
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January 23, 2021 | 5:54 pm EST Update
On January 15, a Ja Morant highlight (No. 1 out of 49) was purchased off the platform’s secondary marketplace for a then-record $35,000. According to The Action Network, the Morant highlight’s original owner got it out of a pack and sold it in November for just under $2,000. That new owner then sold it last week for $35k, making an exceptional return on investment in less than 50 days. Four days after the Morant sale, a group of investors bought a LeBron James dunk highlight (No. 23 out of 59) for $47,500, capping off a 24-hour stretch in which the site saw more than $1 million in sales. Then, on Friday, a collector purchased a No. 1 LeBron James moment from Top Shots’ From The Top Series 1 set for a whopping $71,455, shattering the record.