There was a time LeBron James chastised commissioner Adam Silver for sending a memo around the league saying that sitting out healthy players is an “extremely significant issue” for the NBA.
“I don’t understand why it’s become a problem now, because I sit out a couple games?” LeBron said in March 2017.
Of the many stars who began taking up this practice that eventually was labeled “load management”, LeBron isn’t one to criticize for it. Through the first 16 years of his career, only once did he play less than 74 games (2014-15). He played 62 of 66 games in the lockout-shortened season in 2011-12.
But we can all admit it’s gotten out of hand to a point where the league is making rules about when you can rest a player and even considering dramatic changes to the NBA season to curb the need for load management.
And LeBron recently sounded off on it.
“If I’m healthy, I play,” James said after the Lakers beat the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. “I mean, that should be the approach. I mean, unless we’re getting to like late in the season and we’ve clinched and we can’t get any better or any worse, it could benefit from that, but why wouldn’t I play if I’m healthy? It doesn’t make any sense to me, personally.”
That’s how it used to be. Once a team clinched the playoffs or a division or the No. 1 seed, you saw the stars get the last few games of the season off to rest and recharge for the playoffs. But somewhere along the line, that started to change and we saw players taking games off in November and December. You saw players blow off the second game of a back-to-back.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would do it sometimes out of spite when his team had to play on national television.
But it’s gotten out of hand and some nights fans have no idea whether or not their favorite player will be on the court.
“I don’t know how many games I got left in my career,” LeBron added. “I don’t know how many kids that may show up to a game and they’re there to come see me play and if I sit out, then what? That’s my obligation.”
You have to wonder — and hope — LeBron’s word resonate around the league. I’m sure Adam Silver hopes so.
The Milwaukee Bucks, who come to the Garden on Saturday night, finally lost a game. Their 18-game winning streak ended on Monday night to the Dallas Mavericks, 120-116. It was the second-longest winning streak in franchise history and the longest the NBA has seen since the Warriors ran off 28 straight wins (in the regular season) bridging the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
The Warriors won the first 24 games of the 2015-16 season, on their way to a record 73 wins. (By the way, the team that handed Golden State their first loss that season was the Bucks).
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 48 points in the loss and the Bucks played without injured point guard Eric Bledsoe, who is expected to miss two weeks with a leg injury. Their record is now 24-4 and by all appearances, they are easily the favorite to win the East and get to the NBA Finals.
How much faith do you put in them to come out of the East? Sure, they have the best player in the East in Giannis, who is putting up insane numbers (31.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists) and a solid No. 2 in Khris Middleton (40.4% three-point shooting). Bledsoe is a tough, strong guard. The Lopez Brothers are effective. Their bench is pretty solid with high-IQ shooters such as Donte DiVincenzo and Pat Connaughton.
But is it enough?
This season they are the highest-scoring team in the league, with the best Defensive Rating in the league and play at the fastest pace in the league. But that’s all regular season success. Will it be enough not just to get out of the East — where the Celtics and 76ers think they can contend — but in the Finals, where loaded, experienced teams like the Clippers and Lakers await.
Antetokounmpo is improving as a three-point shooter but his numbers (32.1%) still don’t threaten a defense to do more than try to take away the drive. He shoots under 60% from the free throw line, which is always a liability in the playoffs (he was 35 for 60 in the conference finals).
Let’s face it, they beat an undermanned Pistons team in the first round and a Celtics team in the second round that couldn’t wait to get away from each other. They lost in six games to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals and lost a key component in Malcolm Brogdon, who left as a free agent to go to Indiana.
It will be interesting to watch what the Bucks do before the trade deadline to upgrade the roster with more experience to make a run at a title. They still have a year before Antetokounmpo becomes a free agent. He has a quarter of a billion reasons why he should stay — they can offer him that much in a max contract –and if he already has a championship ring, he doesn’t need any more convincing that they can win a title there.
Some news on the NBA Draft front and it’s a bit concerning. North Carolina point guard Cole Anthony, considered by many as a lock to be a top 4 pick, just had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Anthony, the son of former Knick Greg Anthony, is expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks while he recovers.
Anthony was averaging 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the first nine games of the season for the Tar Heels. His shooting slash line is a bit of a concern, at 36.8% from the field, 35.5% from three and 67.9% from the foul line. His athleticism and quickness are a big part of his game and with a return that could be late January or mid-February, it’s reasonable to wonder if he decides instead to shut it down and prepare for the draft.
Remember, last season Darius Garland did the same thing after he suffered a meniscus injury in late November of his freshman season at Vanderbilt. Garland waited until late January to announce he would leave school to prepare for the draft. The Cavaliers took Garland with the 5th overall pick.
In case you’re wondering if this is extreme, let’s remind you that the No. 1 pick, Zion Williamson, has yet to play in the regular season for the Pelicans because he had surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee. That’s the same knee he suffered a Grade 1 sprain in late February when he had the infamous sneaker blowout in a game for Duke. Williamson missed the last six games of the regular season, but returned in time for March Madness. Perhaps Anthony chooses that route, but what’s most important for these players has to be their health and condition going into their NBA careers.