Load management is a way of life in the NBA. Fans don’t like it. The league has worked hard to schedule more rest into the schedule — including no back-to-backs before or after most nationally televised games — and starting next year the NBA will not allow players who play fewer than 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards.
Most players don’t like load management, either. Enter Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo, who appeared on the “To Inspire” podcast and ripped the entire process because of what it means to fans.
“A lot of guys sitting, like load management, that kind of bothers me in a sense. You have a lot of kids and parents who want to see you play. You have kids who probably come from the inner city, and their parents make a way to put them all the way up in the stands, and then for you to find out you’re not playing. And it’s because you feel like ‘I gotta load manage and be ready for this.’ I remember as a kid, I would’ve gave my last dollar and my foot to go see Kobe Bryant play. I know if I felt like that it’s a lot of other kids that felt like that.”
Adebayo is not wrong.
What goes unsaid about load management in the NBA? It’s driven far more by teams than players. Far more.
Remember what Mark Cuban said about load management: “It’s all data-driven. We’re not going, ‘OK, let’s just mess with the league and our meal ticket to fans to do something just because it might be interesting. We spend so much money, not just on analytics for predictive reasons, but also for biometrics so we know how smart we can be. The dumb thing would be to ignore the science.”
The science is clear — players perform better and are less likely to be injured when properly rested. Teams have players wear biometric monitors during practice and can track a player’s fatigue over the seven-month grind of the season, and the science tells them when a night off might be the best for a player’s health. That doesn’t always sit well. Players such as Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry have heard the cries about load management and said it had been the team’s call, not theirs.
Some players admit the benefits of load management, including Kawhi Leonard who said during the 2019 playoffs while leading Toronto to a title, “I don’t think I’d be playing right now if I would’ve tried to go through that season [without a load management plan].”
However, most players feel like Bam, or Curry, or Kobe Bryant, or James Harden. Players got to the NBA level partly because they are competitive, most don’t want to watch their team on the court without them.
It will be interesting to see how the NBA’s 65-game limit for awards impacts things next season. It likely will not matter for Adebayo (75 games last season and he has averaged 70 games a season over his career). However Giannis Antetokounmpo played in 63, Jimmy Butler 64, and Curry, Lillard and LeBron James were all in the 50s. Injuries are one thing, but would Antetokounmpo and Butler have played an extra game to qualify? You can be sure they will be tracking it.