To play or not is the ques­tion

‘Load man­age­ment’ de­bate a hot topic through­out NBA

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Phil Thomp­son

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.”

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