The NBA’s regular season, for some, is a gigantic slog, which is becoming more and more of a talking point among the league and basketball fans because teams are increasingly finding ways to game the system so players aren’t spending 82 games firing on all cylinders before, potentially, another 28 games in the postseason. That is, objectively, a whole lot of basketball.
Last year led to the term “load management” coming to the forefront, in which players would just sit out games so their bodies could rest and not get worn down with an eye on the playoffs. It most certainly had its detractors, but the proof is in the pudding, and seeing as how the team that made up the term (the Toronto Raptors) won a ring and were led by the guy (Kawhi Leonard) for whom the term was basically invented, we can say, at the very least, that it has its benefits.
The downside, some would argue, is that it hurts the quality of basketball during the regular season and makes it so fans who pay for tickets to see stars might miss out. Those people probably got pretty upset at the answer that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey gave to Dan Patrick about using load management as a reason to rest James Harden and Russell Westbrook during the regular season.
#Rockets GM Daryl Morey when asked about load management for Russell Westbrook and James Harden: “Yeah, it always is (part of the strategy). We try not to label it….Yeah, it’ll be a very put together plan by our staff throughout the season to have our guys peak in April.” pic.twitter.com/CKFHzK3ssz
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) July 30, 2019
“Yeah, it always is (part of the strategy),” Morey said of load management. “We try not to label it or make it a big deal, but we have a great, great training staff. Obviously our goal is just to win the title this year, we’re not looking for any regular season goals, everyone on our team’s won pretty much every award you can except a championship. So, yeah, it’ll be a very put together plan by our staff throughout the season to have our guys peak in April.”
This is, to be clear, a perfectly reasonable response to this question and an approach that makes sense. Harden and Westbrook both play a whole lot of basketball every year — they’ve combined to play in 627 of a possible 656 regular season games over the last four seasons and were among the league leaders in minutes per game during the 2018-19 campaign. Trying to limit the amount and wear and tear on their bodies, especially considering both guys will by 30 years old when the upcoming season tips off, is not only sensible, but it’s objectively in the best interest of both players, especially because the NBA is on record as saying that load management “is an accepted term under the league’s injury reporting and player resting policies” in certain cases.
What one would assume infuriates those who dislike the practice is the openness with which Morey — who said last year the team was gunning for the one-seed in the Western Conference in order to have home-court advantage in a potential series against the Golden State Warriors — admits that Houston doesn’t have any goals during the regular season because its collective eyes are on a ring. While the regular season matters, running guys into the ground to win games during the regular season can conflict with a team’s desire to win a ring. Teams are also increasingly finding ways to take advantage of this, and a great way to do that is to simply reduce the number of miles that players are putting on their bodies.
There are some larger trends at play here, namely the basketball world’s infatuation with rings being the ultimate way to judge a player’s legacy and how they are viewed when matched up against other legends of the game historically, which was always going to lead to various ways for players and teams to place exponentially more weight on winning in the playoffs than winning in the regular season. As for this specific example, what we have here is a Rockets franchise that has been starved to finally get over the hump doing what it has determined is the best way to get over said hump, even if it requires openly admitting that the regular season can hurt them in pursuit of their ultimate goal.