On Monday, it was reported that two big men on big contracts — Cleveland’s Andre Drummond and Detroit’s Blake Griffin — would be removed from their team’s lineups as their futures are evaluated ahead of the NBA’s March 25 trade deadline. Both Cleveland (13th) and Detroit (15th) sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and seek to retool their roster, opting to preserve the health of their former All-Stars in an effort to maximize their trade value. It makes sense from a front office standpoint, but when a team utilizes "load management," it's business as usual. When a player, God forbid, chooses to rest or sit out amid a trade request, it's one of the league's biggest problems.
Load management is a recent trend, brought to the widespread attention of fans with Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during his sole season with the Toronto Raptors. Throughout the 2018-19 season, Leonard never played both games of a back-to-back, instead choosing to protect his health as Toronto prepared for a championship run. Despite Leonard missing 22 regular season games, Toronto finished second in the Eastern Conference and ultimately won the NBA Finals behind Leonard's historic postseason run, proving that load management can be an effective system.
From a fan perspective, load management sucks. It leaves the possibility that you may spend hundreds of dollars on tickets only to watch your favorite player sit on the bench. The NBA hates it, too, and implemented a policy for the 2019-20 season that fined teams $100,000 for resting healthy players during games on national television. But what's the difference between a player opting to rest for their health and teams forcibly holding healthy players out of the lineup ahead of a trade? There isn't.
Please watch the video above — Draymond Green hit the nail on the head. Whether it's a trade request or load management, the double-standards across the NBA are glaring.
"At some point, as players, we need to be treated with the same respect and have the same rights that the team can have," said Green. "Because as a player, you're the worst person in the world when you want a different situation. But a team can say they're trading you. And that man is to stay in shape, he is to stay professional, and if not, his career is on the line."
During the press conference, Green mentioned Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who missed seven games in January due to personal reasons. Irving was lambasted by fans and the media for his absence, criticizing his character and role in the NBA. Upon his return, Irving cited "a lot of family and personal" issues and reemphasized how he's been struggling with the social justice issues across America. Load management doesn't strictly need to involve a player's physical health; their mental health matters, too.
It's wholly unfair to players to receive constant criticism as they try to ensure their futures in the league. The NBA has increasingly become more fast-paced and reliant on athleticism than ever before, and it takes a toll on players' health. Stars like Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins have missed nearly entire or multiple seasons of their careers due to injuries from high-usage on the court, and they're just examples from the last few years. ACL and Achilles tears are often devastating to a player's career trajectory, while others can develop reoccurring injuries that keep them from hitting their true peak.
This isn't to say that players should be able to sit whenever they don't feel like playing on a given night. They get paid a lot of money because they're the best in the world at what they do, and fans pay a lot of money to see them. But if a player or a team's medical staff feel like sitting out a couple games would be best in the long-term interest of the player, then by all means, sit. We as fans are not to judge how able a professional hooper is to play. They've reached the NBA because they possess the skills that we dream of, and they (rightfully) can make decisions in order to keep their careers afloat as long as possible. There needs to be heightened respect from the league and fans towards players who choose to sit out back-to-backs and request trades; the hypocrisy is clear as day.