Doc Rivers knows load management tends to be a delicate subject.
The Clippers were fined $50,000 for Rivers' telling reporters the day after Kawhi Leonard sat out the team's Nov. 6 game vs. the Bucks that Leonard felt “great.” In December, Rivers defended the Clippers’ load management approach and called the Lakers’ philosophy “whatever LeBron (James) says it is.” And in January, multiple Clippers didn’t feel the team was practicing “as hard or as seriously” as it should’ve been, according to The Athletic.
One of Rivers’ two new All-Stars, Joel Embiid, called the concept of load management “BS” in November. Embiid, who has experienced few sustained stretches of health in his NBA career, had his minutes per game reduced from 33.7 in the 2018-19 season to 29.5.
Al Horford rested for the Sixers’ Nov. 12 game vs. the Cavs, though he said there was “definitely some pushback” about that decision. The 34-year-old later missed games because of left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness. He said in July that he “probably wasn’t where I wanted to be physically” during the season.
What’s Rivers’ stance on how to best handle load management?
“You listen, you really do,” he said Monday during his virtual introductory press conference. “You pay attention to your staff, you pay attention to your players, and then you just figure it out. Load management is so individual-based; it’s not team-based. Every individual has a limit, right? So we’ll figure that out.
"Ben (Simmons), when healthy, seems to play more games right now. Joel, it seems like he’s gradually (increasing), which is a good thing. It’s not just that. It’s minutes, it’s practice time. It encompasses a lot of stuff. And every team has to deal with it, and we’ll have to deal with it here, and we’ll probably figure it out.”
Embiid is a unique individual. There are a multitude of factors the Sixers must consider with their three-time All-Star, including the heavy load he carries, quite literally, as a 7-foot center who posts up more than anyone in the NBA. Other relevant considerations include his admitted tendency to fall out of shape quickly, the need to have him healthy and well-conditioned for playoff basketball and his extensive injury history. Embiid suffered a torn ligament in his left ring finger, a left shoulder sprain, a left hip contusion, left knee soreness, injuries to both ankles and a right hand injury this past season.
The Sixers have limited the amount Embiid practices in the past, sometimes holding him out of practices entirely and sometimes only having him participate in less physically taxing portions like shooting drills or walking through plays. This is not abnormal in the NBA, but it’s another area Rivers will have to work out in partnership with Embiid and the Sixers’ medical and performance teams. General manager Elton Brand also pledged last September to be “more a part of it with the players in a partnership for their care.”
“Just be thoughtful and strategic,” Brand said of load management in November. “It’s day-to-day. It’s not anything that I can project and say, ‘Oh, I would have sat X amount of games (when I played).’ But with the rigors of today’s game, just be thoughtful and strategic about it, about how you feel and how you present. Everybody’s body is different.”
As the 58-year-old Rivers thinks about how to navigate this nuanced territory, he wishes “load management” had been part of the NBA’s vernacular during his playing days.
“I do think it’s a good development,” he said. “I think there’s a happy medium that you have to meet. I will say there’s years where I felt I was on the wrong side of that, there’s years where I felt I was on the positive side of that. I think you just have to find the rhythm of your team each year along with the science. I think you have to do both. I do think it’s good, though. I think it’s a good thing.
“Have you seen me walk? I walk like that because there was no load management. I’m hoping that it’s better for all these guys. Because I do believe in the long run, it’ll keep them healthier longer and fresher longer — especially if you’re going to make a deep run, which I hope we do.”