To play or not is the question
‘Load management’ debate a hot topic throughout NBA
Hours before his team’s game against the Bulls on Saturday night at the United Center, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni fielded a question about load management — the much-debated decision to occasionally sit players that heated up this week when Clippers star Kawhi Leonard’s “rest” day coincided with a nationally televised game.
D’Antoni made sport of it.
“I know,” he laughed. “I’m taking the day off. Third quarter, I’m not playing.”
Sure, it’s fine to find levity in the not-so-secret practice that is prevalent in the NBA, but the TV networks that pay big dollars for rights fee and fans who pony up for tickets to see stars aren’t exactly laughing all the way to the bank.
Bulls and Rockets players and coaches were well aware Saturday that the league takes the matter seriously, but most acknowledged it’s a balancing act as to what’s the right answer.
Few players would have better perspective on this than Rockets reserve Austin Rivers. The journeyman guard is the son of Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who’s at the center of this firestorm.
“We talked about the Kawhi thing recently,” Rivers said before the game Saturday. “I asked him, ‘What was the deal with Kawhi?’ He’s just like, ‘He’s not where he needs to be for me to rely on him every single night.’
“Everybody’s goal is for the best player to be 100% for the playoffs. Anything that gets in the way of that, there’s going to be load management. That’s the bottom line with Kawhi. That means he’s going to sit out back-to-back days.
“It’s asking fans what’s important to you. You want to win the season or you want to win the Finals?”
The subject is germane to the Bulls as well.
They had planned to put Otto Porter Jr. on a load-management plan in “a respectful way,” as coach Jim Boylen put it last month, but Porter had an opportunity to play in two back-to-backs and played in both.
But Wednesday, Porter suffered a bruised left foot against the Hawks, one
“It’s up to the team to manage their players. You never want to put anybody in jeopardy.” —Bulls coach Jim Boylen
day after he played against the Lakers. He was using crutches this week, though he was walking without them Saturday. He sat out against the Rockets.
“It’s up to the team to manage their players,” Boylen said. “You never want to put anybody in jeopardy. We want to do what’s right for the player but also what’s right for the team. Sometimes it’s a delicate balancing act. We also have an obligation to do what’s right for the league. It’s a tough thing.
“The only thing I can tell you (is) it’s perceived that it’s all the players in the league or a lot of players. It’s usually a select player or two on each team, and I’m sure each feels that’s what’s best for his longevity, his ability to help the team and his relationship with the team. Everything. I think it’s a team-by-team thing. It’s part of the league now.”
D’Antoni said he relies on input from players and the medical staff to come up with a plan.
“We’re lucky to have two guys (James Harden and P.J. Tucker) I couldn’t sit them down if I wanted them to, as James and P.J., they will just not miss games,” D’Antoni said. “And most of them don’t want to miss games. It’s something we have to make them do. That’s good for us.
For reserve Kris Dunn, load management is not an affordable luxury.
“I don’t know about the league, but for us Jim is going to do what’s best for the team,” Dunn said. “Whatever that is, I can’t really speak on that — that’s more of a coach’s question. For me, I’m taking any minutes that’s given to me. I’m a young guy in this league and I’m still trying to prove myself.
“At the same time, I’m different than any other player. Some guys are older, take a lot of toll on their bodies. I’m a younger player and I went through injuries early on already. I’m a different player.
“Coach gives me 35 minutes, I’m excited.”