Bulls stars’ approach to load management should be lauded

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Bulls stars’ approach to load management should be lauded originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The NBA Board of Governors on Wednesday passed a Player Participation Policy, aimed to limit excessive load management and ensure star players appear in nationally televised and in-season tournament games.

To which Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic collectively shrugged—symbolically, of course. The Bulls’ current and former All-Stars, collectively, long have yawned at the idea of load management.

“I hate missing games,” DeRozan said during the 2021-22 season after a late-season game in which, indeed, the coaching staff finally convinced him to take off one game.

Vucevic is coming off playing all 82 games for the first time in his 12-year career but has played 73 or more games six times.

DeRozan has two 82-game seasons, one 80-game and 10 seasons of at least 74 games over his 14-game career.

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And LaVine not only played through a knee injury during a contract season in 2021-22 but played a career-high 2,768 minutes over 77 games last season and didn’t miss a game from November to April following an early-season maintenance plan to address his offseason left knee surgery.

You can dissect the pros and cons of the Bulls’ Big Three from sunup to sundown. But the trio scores unassailably high marks for availability and desire to play.

“I’ve missed enough games already,” LaVine said early in his Bulls’ tenure.

This is a nod to LaVine overcoming a February 2017 left ACL tear, which made his decision to play through his nagging left knee pain—during a 2021-22 contract season—as the Bulls chased their first playoff berth in five years all the more admirable.

DeRozan, who turned 34 last month, actually qualifies for one exception and almost two because of his age and career workload. While he by one year misses the exception of being 35 on opening night, his 1,031 career games and 35.471 career minutes allow him to receive a pre-approved miss of a back-to-back game as long as the Bulls apply a week prior to the game.

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But given how much DeRozan resisted the organization’s attempts to get him to take one game off late in the 2021-22 season until he finally acquiesced, it’s a safe bet this loophole goes unused. DeRozan also played through a nagging thigh injury last season.

The NBA already had instituted a minimum games played requirement for players to be eligible for most valuable player, All-NBA, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player or All-Defensive team honors. Players need to appear in at least 65 games or have played in at least 62 and 85 percent of his team’s games before suffering a season-ending injury.

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So participation and curbing the practice of star players missing games is top of mind in the league offices.

Last season, Luka Dončić missed the Dallas Mavericks’ lone trip to the United Center with a strained right quadriceps, leaving a wake of crestfallen fans wearing his jersey disappointed. While Dončić’s minor injury would’ve precluded this new policy from applying to him, seeing those disappointed fans is a reminder of the impact these stars can have.

It’s what made Michael Jordan’s awareness so great. He wouldn’t even take off preseason games, some played in remote, neutral sites, because he understood the obligation of appearing for fans.

That was a different era, one where star players routinely logged 82-game seasons. In this era of load management, the approach of LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic should be lauded.

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