It wasn’t too long ago when load management was all the rage in the NBA. I could’ve said fad or in vogue, but let’s go with rage, considering how load management was received by those who criticized it.
I remember hearing and reading opinions of incensed fans who accused players and management of collusion, faking player injury or pretending to feel unwell for the sake of resting key players for a day or two.
Load management has been criticized as being unfair to fans who feel shortchanged coming to the stadium to watch games live and paying for tickets using hard-earned money only to see superstar players appearing in street clothes and playing cheerleader on the bench.
Others point to load management as an example of how the league and its players have become soft, very different from an era in the NBA when every player—superstars first and foremost—wants to play, injury or illness notwithstanding.
While load management has been criticized, some see the value of load management as a kind of health and safety protocol —yes, health and safety protocol, but a totally different animal compared to how we know HSP today: forceful, urgent, and necessary.
Players—one, two, or even a third of the team—sit out games because of health and safety protocol. They are told to rest. Health and safety protocol is not just a new catchphrase; it is a necessity for the healthy and sustainable staging of a months-long professional sporting event like the NBA in the age of COVID. All of a sudden, nobody is talking about sneaking in rest and downtime under the guise of load management, now that many superstar players are mandated to rest and skip games as a result of HSP.
Is it a good thing? It remains to be seen. Resting players decreases the chances of injury as a result of wear and tear playing a full calendar.
But with this many players missing this many games—including crucial games, the effect will reflect on the team’s win-loss slate and its chances of contending for the championship.
Even those built as super teams have suffered, and yes, like the conversation about load management, the topic of super teams, which was hotly discussed and debated not too long ago, was swept away into oblivion by health and safety protocol, a raging wave that has engulfed the league.
Or have you forgotten the time when every trade or signing by a legitimate contender like Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Houston, or Brooklyn of any player with enough experience and value triggers that knee jerk they-are-building-a-super-team reaction from fans and bashers alike?
Like load management, it feels like everyone connected or invested in the NBA (players, coaches, front office, fans, observers, etc.) was obsessed with this topic not too long ago. Before the 2021-22 NBA season began, the “super team” situation was a hot topic among those appraising roster, gauging championship mettle, and hoping to predict trade deadline scenarios and draft pick eventualities.
We haven’t reached the halfway mark of the regular season and yet nobody is talking about super teams anymore. Why? Because the reality is something else. Teams cannot even afford the appearance of being consistently super talented when starters are missing games because of health and safety protocol. The super team paradigm has been replaced with the survivor model, with depleted teams relying on their skeleton crew to survive.
Resistance by subsistence on substitutes.
NBA teams are scrambling to sign players to 10-day contracts just to have enough in uniform. Unusual, since we are used to pre-COVID era teams consistently fielding a full roster filled with many unused and unutilized players especially during the Playoffs when teams shorten their rotation to eight or nine players max.
With COVID-19 infection decimating NBA rosters left and right, forget about load management or super teams. The new normal is promoting the second unit as starters. Third stringers can now expect serious minutes of quality basketball, and not just the dutiful running of offense and defense in the face of an eventual rout playing garbage minutes.
Agents of players left unsigned by teams are now busy talking to front office in need of players with experience; a rare silver lining, especially for many veterans eager to prove that they still belong in the big league.
The quest to become an NBA champion has always been about the survival of the fittest, and now, it has become very apt. The survival of the dream to vie for a championship rests on how many star players are fit and cleared to play, and how many games these starters can play (and win) together.
Despite our clear divide—about load management, about super teams, and about our affiliations—we find ourselves united in the wish for games to be played by teams that are healthy and with a complete roster.
Maybe it is because no one wants that sour aftertaste of losing on the account of absent superstars. No one wants an almost meaningless and unsatisfying victory if it is against a team that fought without its best players taking part in the battle. It is far from gratifying to become a champion of a tournament played by teams who are not in their full strength on many occasions.