Want a surefire way to get almost any NBA coach to roll their eyes, snort or make some other derisive gesture? Mention load management.
That is, as long as they're sure no one is looking. To be caught dismissing the practice would be "career suicide," says one former head coach who is now an assistant. As some owners and team executives see it, managing a player's physical exertion over the course of a season to avoid injury is simply smart business aimed at protecting a team's most valuable asset—its star players—from being put out of commission.
Sounds like a worthwhile enterprise, right?
It can be. Much like using analytics to build rosters and devise game plans, load management offers another scientific tool to be used in the art of winning basketball games. The issue for most coaches (and at least a half-dozen team executives who spoke to B/R about the issue) is that what began as a measure limited to older stars on playoff-bound teams or players with a checkered injury history has practically become a leaguewide policy liberally applied to players regardless of age or condition.
No coach or team executive was willing to challenge the veracity of the movement on the record. Convincing players that a team values their health and well-being as much as winning games and generating revenue has always been a balancing act. The rift between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs over whether a quad issue should have prevented him from playing—an impasse that ultimately led to Leonard's move to Toronto—is just the latest example of what can happen when a player perceives that equation to be out of whack.
The fear of suffering the same fate as San Antonio has led most teams to show hypersensitivity to their players' health, not only by reducing games played, minutes per game and the number and length of practices, but also by creating health and performance departments capable of addressing a player's every physical need.
Rest assured, though, a large faction—possibly even the majority—of coaches and team executives is convinced it has gone too far.
"All we do is find reasons for guys not to work," one team executive says. "It's getting absurd. And the younger the league gets, which will happen even more when the draft rule changes, it's going to have an even greater [negative] impact. In what world are you not expected to go to work every day?