The NBA glossary has introduced the casual and die-hard fan alike to all kinds of every-day terms. Posterized. Shaqtin' A Fool. Load Management.
Load management isn't exactly a new occurrence. Like many plagues and apocalyptic scenarios, it began as a joke. In a March 2012 game, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's box score listed that star Tim Duncan as a "DNP", the obvious acronym informing observers that he did not play in the game. Usually, the accompanying reason is listed as a mere coach's decision or injury, but Popovich went full comedian when he declared that Duncan was...old. Popovich had used the tactic before when it came to Robert Horry, but this was the first time a renowned star player was admittedly held out for a blunt reason other than injury. Modern examples have dropped the funny business, opting for the generic term of "rest" in modern settings.
The basketball-loving public had a good laugh about it back then, unaware of the monster that was being unleashed.
The phenomenon was recently thrust back into public consciousness when Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers star and defending NBA Finals MVP that some see as the league's current best player, sat out early games. Leonard's absence came in the first half of an LA back-to-back against Milwaukee. Nationally televised on TNT, the game was billed as a meeting between Leonard and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but eyes were certainly lost with Leonard's choice to sit. Leonard had been dealing with a knee injury, but Clippers head coach Doc Rivers insisted he was relatively fine. The comments led to a $50,000 fine from the NBA, who was displeased with the mischaracterization of Leonard's ailment.
Plenty of superstars have been "victim" to the load management occurrence, and it's annoyed fans across the country. For example, a December 2016 game in Memphis lost much meaning when the Cleveland Cavaliers came to visit. Such an interconference battle meant the Cavs, armed with a "Big 3" of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, would mark the only time they would visit Music City. Instead, load management saw all three sit out. Memphis won the game, but fans at FedEx Forum were nonetheless disgruntled that the opposing group sat out their one visit.
Frankly, those fans, and NBA fans in general, only have themselves to blame for what's going on.
If there's one thing NBA fans enjoy, it's a fine debate. The advent of social media has done nothing to quell the argumentative storms, as anyone who signs up has 280 characters or less to express their opinion to the masses with a simple click and hashtag.
Most arguments, especially when it comes to comparing the greatness of players past and present, boil down to a single question: "How many rings does he have?!?!"
That's why players are sitting.
People may watch, but there's no denying that the NBA regular season has taken on significantly less meaning. After all, if you have at least one "superstar", it's borderline impossible to miss the NBA playoffs. Long gone are the days of the 2004 Detroit Pistons.
The traditional goal of homecourt advantage has thus been replaced by the endeavor of having all your important players fresh by the time the postseason rolls around. It's all in the name of getting as many rings as possible before retirement strikes. So far, it would appear the strategy be paying off. Last season's champion Toronto Raptors, for example, had just three players take part in at least 70 games.
A championship was always the team goal, but, in the all-important legacy conversation, titles have taken on an increased meaning. Three of the top six players in all-time games played (John Stockton, Vince Carter, Karl Malone) are each ringless (though Carter remains active in Atlanta), and their lack of jewelry is usually brought up when comparing them to their contemporaries.
The 82-game season puts a total on each player's individual "load", perhaps raising the question if the campaign is too long. But unless you want advertisements plastered all over the courts and jerseys like a NASCAR race to compensate for less games, it's more than likely here to stay in its current iteration. Thus, load management is the future and something that isn't going away any time soon.
NBA tickets in this new era? Simply put, buyer beware-- and enjoy the playoffs.