The NBA has made it clear heading into the 2023-24 season that it wants to curb “load management”, a term coined by the Raptors back in 2018-19 while trying to manage Kawhi Leonard’s quad injury after he only appeared in nine games for the Spurs the prior season. The practice has spiraled out of control since then, and new efforts to combat it include a 65-game minimum for All-NBA teams and most individual NBA awards (but not Rookie of the Year, for some reason) and fines for teams who abuse the practice, especially during nationally televised games.
Although this runs counter what Adam Silver said back during the All-Star break — that he didn’t believe load management was out of control and “there is real medical data and scientific data about what’s appropriate,” — the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations Joe Dumars recently told The Athletic it’s no longer supported by science.
“Before, it was a given conclusion that the data showed that you had to rest players a certain amount, and that justified them sitting out. We’ve gotten more data, and it just doesn’t show that resting, sitting guys out correlates with lack of injuries, or fatigue, or anything like that. What it does show is maybe guys aren’t as efficient on the second night of a back-to-back.”
One thing that is not confirmed is what exactly this “science” is, the statistics behind it, and why this contradicts what Silver said just 8 months ago. Does the “science” show that players are performing the same on one day of rest compared to two (or more)? Is it showing injuries are occurring regardless of how rested a player is — in other words, injuries happen and there’s no discernable difference in them occurring on players under load management vs. not? We don’t know because they didn’t say.
Of course, there is the other elephant in the room that was discussed in the same NBA board meeting is the TV contract, and Dumars did say they would like to see players get back to playing in all 82 games, as was the case back during his playing days with the Detroit Bad Boys in the 80’s and 90’s, when he appeared in 79 or more games 6 times in his career, including 82 three times.
It’s certainly interesting that the league chose now to come out with this new “scientific evidence” but without providing the data to back it up and a new face speaking for them. Regardless, even though Gregg Popovich and the Spurs (as well as the Clippers with Leonard and Paul George) have become posterchildren for the practice over the years, the good news is they’re young and revving to go again, so hopefully it won’t be as big of an issue for viewers as it was during the aging Big Three era or last year when (we all knew that the end goal was).
On the bright side, Dumars did mention that maybe the product on the court is diminished on back-to-backs, so maybe that will encourage the league to revisit scheduling, shorten the season to 70 games, eliminate more back-to-backs, etc. going forward. Because if the ultimate goal is to satisfy viewers and broadcasters with the best possible product, maybe when it comes time to negotiate a new TV deal (the current once expires after 2024-25), they can convince the networks that a little bit less could go a very long way.