Kawhi Leonard

Instead of taking the court against reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo Wednesday night, Kawhi Leonard sat out for load management purposes.

The NBA has gone through numerous eras in its 73 years of existence. There was the Bill Russell Era, an era that saw Russell’s Boston Celtics won 11 championships in a 13-year stretch. There was also an extended Big Man Era, in which big men such as Russell, George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and other great centers ruled the roost. Other notable and immediately recognizable eras include: the Showtime Era, the Jordan Era and the LeBron Era.

Sometimes eras can overlap. Players like Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon are considered a part of the Big Man Era, even though they were all active during the Jordan Era.

There is little doubt that we are currently in the midst of the three point era. After all, out of the top 20 individual seasons for three-pointers made, 17 of those spots are held by active NBA players. Need further proof? According to Zach Kram of The Ringer, “last season’s Rockets made more 3s than any franchise’s combined total throughout the 1980s.”

While the three point era is not going away any time soon, there is evidence that we are in the midst of a second era – the Load Management Era.

The Load Management Era is one in which teams sit out their star players in hopes of preventing injury and keeping them fresh for the playoffs. Many former NBA players and longtime fans have scoffed at the idea that healthy, millionaire players should sit out of regular season games. The players of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s laced them up every day when healthy. What’s wrong with today’s athletes?

Also, the cost of watching NBA games has skyrocketed. During the 2018-19 season, the average cost of a single game ticket on the secondary ticket market was $89. For large market and championship-contending teams, the number was much higher. According to the Los Angeles Times, tickets to Lakers home games last season carried an average cost of $285.48. Golden State Warriors home game tickets averaged $463 in the team’s final season at The Oracle.

Imagine forking out more than a cool grand for your family of four to attend a Lakers game, only to see LeBron James sitting in a suit on the sidelines – not because of an injury, but because of load management.

Better yet, as a St. Louisan, imagine driving or flying several hours to an NBA city only to learn that the best players would not be taking the court. Yet, that has been the reality for many over the past few seasons.

Proponents of the idea of load management received a huge “I told ya so” boost last season after the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship. The Raptors used load management to help preserve Kawhi Leonard and he carried the team to a championship. Furthermore, the Raptors defeated an injury-riddle Warriors team. The Warriors made five straight NBA Finals appearances and the workload has seemingly taken an immense toll on its star players.

Kevin Durant (now with the Brooklyn Nets) is expected to sit out the entire season after rupturing his Achilles during the Finals. Klay Thompson tore his ACL in the playoffs and expected to miss most of the season. Stephen Curry will miss at least three months after breaking his hand in the fourth game of the current season. Draymond Green will miss at least three games after suffering a torn finger ligament.

The Warriors rash of injuries represents one extreme. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers’ kid glove treatment of Leonard represents another.

The Clippers were criticized heavily after announcing that Leonard would not play a nationally televised game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night for load management reasons. It was the second game Leonard has been a healthy scratch. The team has only played eight games.

“Kawhi not playing to me is ridiculous at this point,” longtime sports announcer and analyst Doris Burke said on SportsCenter. “I don’t understand it. He is a great player. He is compelling to watch.”

If the Clippers keep up that pace, Leonard will miss at least 20 games as a healthy scratch this season. That is despite the fact that he will earn nearly $33M in salary.

Burke did acknowledge that the Clippers also have a responsibility to Leonard’s long term health and to the long term success of the team.

The NBA finds itself in a precarious position of allowing teams to protect their star players while still putting the best product on the court night in and night out. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a good answer. The league already started the season a week earlier than usual in order to stretch out the schedule. It completely eliminated stretches of four games in five nights and sought to minimize back-to-backs as much as possible.

It appears that that wasn’t good enough. Now the league will have to consider whether to stretch out the season further or shrink its 82 game schedule so that healthy star players aren’t sitting out a quarter of the season.

McGirt strategy costs Kovalev

When it was announced that Canelo Alvarez would venture into the light heavyweight division to face Sergey Kovalev for the WBO title, many wondered if he’d bitten off more than he could chew. Kovalev has not been the same dominant fighter since Andre Ward stopped him in 2017, however, he was still one of the top fighters and heaviest punchers in the division.

For some strange reason, his trainer Buddy McGirt decided that should abandon his natural size and strength advantages against Alvarez. In an effort to preserve his shaky endurance, McGirt instructed Kovalev to attempt to be a volume puncher instead of a powerful one.

Sergey Kovalev

Canelo Alvarez knocked out Sergey Kovalev Saturday night to win the WBO Light Heavyweight Title. The win made Alvarez a four-division champion.

Saturday night, we witnessed one of the most-feared punchers in the sport throwing pitty pat jabs and right hands. The idea was that if Kovalev threw a hard punch and missed, it would give the quicker Alvarez a better chance at landing counter punches.

The reality is that Kovalev (34-4-1, 29 KO) is a 36-year-old fighter with stamina issues. Ward exposed him as a boxer who cannot handle body shots. His danger is his power and McGirt took it away.

The result was a steady body assault from Alvarez throughout the entire fight, with little consequence. Though he didn’t throw many hard punches, Kovalev was still worn down by Alvarez’s relentless body assault. The result was a devastating 11th round KO that earned Kovalev an instant nap and Alvarez (53-1-0, 36 KO) a world title in a fourth division and cemented his status as a future Hall of Famer.

Kovalev should probably sit down and think about how much longer he wants to do this boxing thing. He is 4-4 in his last eight fights with three of those Ls coming by KO.

Be sure to check In the Clutch online and also follow Ishmael on Twitter @ishcreates. 

Ishmael H. Sistrunk is a columnist and the website coordinator for the St. Louis American and www.stlamerican.com.

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