Personally, I didn’t know what “Load Management” was until 2017, but recently it has become a hot topic around the league. NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard is known to use this technique quite often and some could say, he has perfected it. He along with other stars like Lebron James have used this technique in the past to ensure their long-term health so that they are fresh enough to compete in the playoffs at full capacity.
What is Load Management?
According to ESPN.com, Load Management is, “…a program employed by NBA teams and players to monitor the physiological stress (or load) a player endures doing any number of activities.” In other words, it’s a fancy way of saying rest, rest from the heavy beating that these players endure on a day to day basis. The minutes played during games is only a minor part of the amount of trauma that NBA super-humans endure upon their body. Lifting regiments, cardio exercises, individual skill workouts, team practices, and most of all, lack of sleep all go into an athlete’s “load”. Although the true objective of the players that use this technique is often blurry and misunderstood, Load Management is used to lower the “load” on athletes and avoid injury. Dr. Marcus Elliott, the founder and director of the Peak Performance Project says, “Loading management is about lowering the threshold of load on a player so that he’s able to recover and decrease the risk of injury or chronic fatigue.” You cannot deny that there is a valid, scientific explanation behind the purpose of Load Management.
How is Load Management Used?
NBA superstars Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard have been the largest culprits of this technique, and they have popularized it as well. In the 2018-19 season, Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors created a Load Management plan. This plan consisted of Leonard sitting out for 20 games out of 82, and he did not play in any of the Raptor’s back-to-back games. Lebron James, another player who utilized this last season, sat out a total of 27 games, 10 of those games due to “Load Management.” This however, was not Lebron’s plan, unlike the plan made by the Raptors, the Lakers shut James down after they were taken out of playoff contention by D’Angelo Russell and the Nets last season. The Lakers used Load Management to prime James for this season as opposed to the playoffs. This season, Lebron has moved away from using Load Management and has played in every game so far this season, while averaging 34.2 minutes. Kawhi on the other hand, has missed 4 out of his first 13 games due to Load Management. Other teams like the Grizzlies and the Mavericks have also employed this treatment, sitting out their star players on the back end of back-to-back games and matches against weaker adversaries. This procedure has become a new strategy for NBA teams to ensure the health of their greatest assets going forward.
Is Load Management Good or Bad for the NBA?
In my opinion, Load Management can be looked at from a few different perspectives. From one perspective, it can be seen as the NBA turning into a softer league, and Adam Silver is allowing players to get paid millions of dollars while at the same time, sitting out 10-20 games due to rest. From another perspective, you could say that the pace of this game has become so fast and the players have become so athletic that it’s nearly impossible to play all 82 games anymore. An owner could view this strategy as something that will make the organization less money because they won’t be seeing their favorite player(s) perform. All opinions are valid and all answers are correct in this case, which makes this a very hard topic to really say if it’s 100% good or bad.
What are the Results?
In an argument that is as controversial and two-sided as this, one must look at the results, what has come out of Load Management. Going back to the Kawhi Leonard story, the Raptors plan to keep him healthy for the playoffs worked to perfection. They kept him healthy throughout most of the season, and went on one of the most historic playoff runs in NBA history, dethroning the almighty Golden State Warriors in 6 games. Going back to what I was saying about Lebron James, the Lakers plan to shut down James to prime him for the upcoming season has worked as well. James is putting up MVP numbers and leading his squad to the best record in the league at 11-2.
An argument can also be made that it has made it easier for players to get back to full health following a serious injury. Although you can’t measure the true impact that Load Management has had on players like Dejounte Murray and Kristaps Porzingis, you can see they are back to playing at a high level of basketball and not playing in any back-to-back games this season has an impact on that.
In conclusion, you can take Load Management however you want, but you cannot deny the historic playoff performances made by a fully healthy Kawhi Leonard. One of which you could say is partially due to the time that he spent resting. On the other hand, you cannot deny the hard-working fans that pay good money to see these games, just to see their favorite players in street wear on the end of the bench because of Load Management. It’s a tough concept to understand, but it is here to stay.