Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard sat out Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz due to a thing called “load management.”
Load management became part of the NBA lexicon last year in large part because of Leonard. Then with Toronto, the wing sat out more than 25 percent of the Raptors’ 82 regular-season games. With plenty left in the tank, he then barnstormed through the NBA playoffs, leading the Raptors to the title and himself to the MVP award.
While the term is recent, the strategy has been around for decades.
“I’ve always done it, really,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, recalling a time when he left three key players at home during an entire road trip with the Boston Celtics, which he coached from 2004-2013.
“We just called it resting,” he said. “Now we call it load management.”
As a whole, NBA athletes are playing about four minutes less per game than their counterparts 14 years ago. Teams are also averaging more than 20 different starting lineups a season compared to 17.4 a decade ago. Still, opinions on efficacy of load management are varied.
Jazz forward Joe Ingles, who at 32 is the second oldest player on the roster, said he’d rather play whenever possible.
“Personally, I don’t really like it. I enjoy playing,” he said. “Obviously if I’m injured and going to hurt myself, I’m not going to do it. But I’ve been fortunate. I take pride in trying to play every game. It’s just something I’ve done. I try to play as many games as I can.”
The Jazz haven’t sat any players for load management this season and didn’t do it last season, either.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he hasn‘t seen any empirical evidence or “peer-reviewed research” pertaining to the benefits of load management. He seemed reluctant to ascribe to the idea of keeping players out of some games to improve their performance in others. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t believe in the power of rest.
“Rest is an interesting thing. Rest is important,” Snyder said. “Rest is important with whether you have a shootaround or not, important with whether you stay over when you have an East Coast road trip, important with when you have practice times. There are so many factors that go into it. We kind of encapsulate it now in ‘load management.’ I think it’s very specific to a situation or player or team. It’s something we’re conscious of and believe in.”
Resting Leonard on Wednesday in a game aired by ESPN was something of a risky decision for the Clippers. In 2017, the NBA instituted a policy in which it could fine teams up to $100,000 for sitting players in high-profile games, such as those that are nationally televised. However, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols reported the Clippers got approval from the league before benching Leonard for the first game of a back-to-back series.
The Clippers host the Spurs, the team Leonard played for from 2011-18, on Thursday. They will meet the Jazz again Sunday in L.A.
Rivers said he consults with his entire staff, as well as the athlete, before making the decision to rest a player for an entire game. He acknowledged that the move can be frustrating to fans who pay money to attend games in anticipation of watching certain players or matchups.
“All I can say is, if you’re a Clippers fan, it’s easy to explain. That’s who we should be concerned with more,” Rivers said. “Having said that, you should care about all the fans because they pay and hopefully we have enough on the floor that we’ll show them a good game. If you’re a Kawhi fan and you’re from Utah, then that’s just a tough break. But there’s no way around it today. Everyone’s doing it.”
Not the Jazz. At least not yet.
Nonetheless, Ingles said he can see why, if players needed a night off, they might choose to take it in Salt Lake City.
“It’s a good place to rest,” he said. “Beautiful city (and) it’s got the mountains. …”