The Los Angeles Lakers need LeBron James and Anthony Davis to stay healthy this season. The preceding sentence is surely not a controversial take, but what the team will try in order to keep their two stars on the court remains to be seen.
One popular suggestion has been to put Davis and James on some sort of “load management” program. “Load management” — for those unaware — is the process of having players sit out periodically to, well, manage the load they carry. It is not, as is commonly confused, hiring Brad Pitt to drive them around (although who knows that could work too).
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel wasn’t specifically speaking about the Lakers’ plans for James or Davis when discussing his overall thoughts on “load management” (and many other things) in wide-ranging Q&A with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, but it’s worth reading his thoughts on the subject and thinking about how they may apply to this roster:
MT: The term “load management” really gained steam last season, and I thought the example discussed the most – Kawhi Leonard – was actually more of an anomaly. He’d played only nine games in the previous season due to a unique injury, so his totaling 60 games seemed more of a set plan specific to him. Have we gone too far in the way we talked about player rest, and is it perhaps more specific to the individual?
Vogel: To me it’s more of a case-to-case basis. I understand why they had that approach with Kawhi and the benefits they received from it. It doesn’t mean Player X on a lottery team should be sitting out (when healthy), or Player X on a top team should be sitting out, a healthy guy, a random game in December. You have to follow the recommendation of your medical team. That’s what it comes down to. And what they decide, you roll with that.
Between the Lakers’ use of the term for James and how the Raptors sat Leonard, among other situations, it’s inarguable that “load management” has become fairly ubiquitous in the NBA lexicon. But as Vogel notes, it’s worth considering on a player-by-player basis, because as much of a benefit as Leonard clearly received from it last season, it’s fair to wonder whether other players in different situations would get the exact same boost.
In James’ case, the Lakers’ applied the term because he was still recovering from a groin injury and they were basically out of the playoff race. It didn’t make sense to risk further injury for their already-hampered, 34-year-old star with little to play for down the stretch.
Leonard — as Trudell noted above — was another unique situation. The Raptors had just acquired the soon-to-be free agent in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs, and the latter was a place where Leonard’s uncle has admitted their camp had a “lack of trust” in the medical staff and organization, who judged Leonard ready to play when he didn’t feel that he was. You add in that variable along with the fact that Leonard still clearly felt he was dealing with some lingering effects from his original quad injury, and you have a recipe for a very conservative situation where the Raptors are letting him sit when he feels he needs to in order to gain his trust and keep him healthy.
It worked, as Leonard stayed (mostly) healthy for the majority of the playoffs and was able to take his game to another level when the Raptors needed him most, resulting in a championship. And as happens every time a team wins a title, the Raptors’ methods led to a change in the groupthink of “How Titles Are Won,” as the idea that Toronto’s success proved that resting stars with “load management” is the way to a title is now nearly all-encompassing in the discourse about the league.
Things may not be that simple, however. Is the NBA season too long? Absolutely, and that’s backed up by mounds of evidence. However, does that mean that every team needs to go into the season with the idea of resting each star player x amount of games? Probably not, and it appears Vogel feels the same way.
Each player is a different case. James is getting a little older and just sustained his first major injury. He shouldn’t necessarily be on the same “load management” plan as Davis, who is 26 years old and says he’s coming into the season “100 percent” healthy.
Davis has dealt with various dings his entire career, sure, and is likely to leave Lakers fans with a few scares when he crumples to the floor this year. All that means is that the medical staff should probably monitor how he’s feeling, and in consultation with him determine if he needs to sit out a game here or there to stay healthy for more games down the line. The same goes for James.
James and Davis should both should certainly sit out some, to be clear. It’s just the amount of games they do so shouldn’t necessarily be pre-determined by following the exact Leonard model with an expectation to replicate the exact same results. As long as the Lakers are smart about finding the right balance between listening to their stars and protecting them from fatigue (or their own desires to play it through it when it’s determined to be dangerous) then it appears Vogel has them on the right track.