There are a number of phrases that have been pounded into the ground so much, they now elicit a sigh and an eye roll. In the NBA, “Load Management” is right there with “Jordan or LeBron” as a phrase many of us would happily pay to make go away. It just so happens that the NBA is trying to oblige us with a new rule — one that has been talked about plenty, on The Ringer, ESPN, The Athletic, and even here at Pounding the Rock. In reference to teams putting “rest” as why a player was sitting out, The Mismatch’s Chris Vernon said, “So number one, you won’t see that happening, where teams are saying out for rest. They’ll just come up with some kind of reason as to why the guy can’t play.”
That got me thinking: Could the NBA handle injured players similarly to the MLB? For those that are unfamiliar, the MLB uses 7-, 10-, 15-, and 60-day Injured Lists. These different lengths allow teams to make roster moves during the season while a player recovers and makes sure the player actually takes the time to do so. Each comes with specific rules, such as the 7-day IL only being available only for players with concussion symptoms. Given the fact the MLB plays 162 games in a season, they have the capacity to force players to miss a minimum amount of time when placed on the IL.
Until the NBA shortens the season from 82 games, they have as much capacity as the MLB does to utilize an IL-type of system, especially when you consider MLB teams play practically every day and NBA teams are only occasionally asked to play back-to-backs. Why not tell teams that if a player sprains an ankle, and they plan on sitting him out because he’s too hurt to play on it, he needs to take a week off?
Now I understand how tricky this all is. Some players might get hurt, but the extent of the injury is thought of as something that’ll sideline a single game, only to find out that it took a week or two for them to recover. And on the other hand, if the league states that any player who is expected to miss a game due to injury must be put on the IL, they could be causing that player to miss more games than the injury took to recover from.
If it was my call, though, here’s how I’d break it down:
Keep the concussion protocol the same. The Athletic wrote about the league’s policy earlier this year regarding Anthony Davis, if you’re wondering what it is.
Remove rest days entirely. The league has changed their scheduling over the past few years to make it easier on players. Trying to bunch games in the same city and region and lightening up the number of back-to-backs and three-in-fives are just a couple of examples. There can be exemptions, like how this new rule allows exemptions for players of a certain age and if they have an unusual injury history.
Create a 5-, 10-, 20-, and 40-game IL. Every injury is different and every player recovers from those injuries in different timeframes — it’s up to the team’s doctors and staff to understand their player’s ability to recover. They should know how severe an injury is and have an idea of when the inflicted player will be sidelined. If the injury is going to take more than two games, it’s likely that player would benefit from being put on the 5-game IL. How many times have we seen a player not appropriately recover from an injury, return to the lineup, only to hurt something else?
At the end of the day, this entire rule change is based on the fact that fans get upset when they buy tickets to attend a game due to who’s coming to town, but when gameday arrives, they get news that player is going to sit out.
Wait… I don’t think that’s right… Oh, yes, I remember now. It’s based on the television networks who nationally broadcast getting upset about the product they bought rights to is cheapened when star players rest.
The regular season of the NBA had basically become the embodiment of every big play in football. You know the one. The one where your team returns an interception for a touchdown, but you can’t quite celebrate because you’re anxiously anticipating to see the yellow graphic pop up saying there was a penalty. Well, when it came to big NBA matchups, NBA fans couldn’t get overly excited until they got word everybody was playing. That’s something that nobody wants. Not the fans. Not the teams. And certainly not those TV networks.
All we’re trying to do is get back to the days when we could see there was going to be a Friday night showdown between players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant and we’d know both were going to play. The NBA has taken a pretty good first step in that direction. But I think implementing an IL would take it even further.