Mark Cuban on load management: ‘The dumb thing would be to ignore the science’

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The idea of load management in the NBA was not the brainchild of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Rather, he was the first to see the science, recognize the value of keeping players rested and healthy (particularly as Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker got older), and implement a plan to have guys at their best entering the playoffs rather than being worn down. Popovich has the rings to back up his thinking.

The science is unambiguous. It screams that rest — or, more accurately, giving players time to recover properly — matters most when keeping players both healthy over a long season and extending their careers. The most obvious example was last season in Toronto, when Kawhi Leonard played just 60 games to make sure his quad tendon (and opposite knee) were healthy when the playoffs started. The result was Leonard being the best player on the planet in the playoffs and the Raptors throwing a championship parade.

In the wake of the frivolous “debate” around Leonard missing games for the Clippers already this season to avoid injuries — which is what happened, no matter what the league office is selling — Mark Cuban came down on the side of the science. And resting players. Here are Cuban’s words, via ESPN:

“The problem isn’t load management, per se,” Cuban told reporters in Boston on Monday. “I think teams have to be smarter about when to load manage. I’m all for load management. Worse than missing a player in a [regular-season] game is missing him in the playoffs….

“It’s all data-driven,” Cuban said. “We’re not going, ‘OK, let’s just mess with the league and our meal ticket to fans to do something just because it might be interesting. We spend so much money, not just on analytics for predictive reasons, but also for biometrics so we know how smart we can be.

“The dumb thing would be to ignore the science.”

In his latest newsletter (something you should absolutely sign up for, it’s brilliant), Henry Abbott talks about the science of player rest (and has a great story on how it extended the career of Kyle Korver, something you can only read in that newsletter).

NBA fans generally hate load management. It reminds me very much of the early days of talking about climate change. Most people would rather the science just go away…

Years ago, a study showed that players in top European soccer leagues have six times the injury rate if they play two games instead of one per week. The study might not be the most relevant to the NBA—it’s a different sport—but it’s a home run that the schedule itself causes injuries. Tired bodies don’t have the same strength, and they are more likely to move inefficiently.”

I don’t know anything about the insides of Kawhi’s knee, but I know that there are times nowadays, when “just go out there and play” is a ridiculous approach. Enough NBA players are injured already. Kawhi uses more useful language: he should play when his body is “ready.” As in ready to take on big forces without big risks. It’s a much healthier way to discuss it (except that if a coach does it, the NBA might want $50k).

In the case of Leonard missing time, the NBA scheduled the Clippers on a back-to-back with both games on national television. Everyone knew he would miss a game, including the suits at the league office and at ESPN. The backlash came because he sat out an ESPN game (rather than the TNT one, so ESPN personalities spoke up), and it was against the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, a matchup everyone wanted to see. However, from the Clippers’ perspective, it was the right move: The second game — vs. the Trail Blazers — was against a conference foe that would have a bigger impact both on seedings and potential tiebreakers down the line. That was the game the Clippers had to win, so they made sure their best player was ready for that game.

Want less load management? Reducing the number of NBA games is a start, but the problem is bigger and more holistic than just that. As Baxter Holmes wrote about in detail at ESPN last summer — and LeBron James complained about recently — the number of games at the AAU level, often in tightly compacted time frames at tournaments, is leading to problems long before guys get to the NBA. Young players are learning bad habits, not getting enough time to rest their bodies, and problems develop before guys even hit the NBA. That leaves teams at the highest level trying to clean up the mess and get the most out of their top players.

There are no easy answers. But the answer is not “you’re paid to play 82 games, so get out there.”

Celtics interim coach Mazzulla to coach Team Giannis in All-Star Game

New York Knicks (120) Vs. Boston Celtics (117) At TD Garden (OT)
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One way to remove the “interim” tag from your coaching resume is to earn the right to coach in the All-Star Game.

Boston Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzula and his staff will coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game this season. It became official when the 76ers fell to the Magic on Tuesday night, ensuring the Celtics would have the best record in the East by the cut-off date this Sunday.

The Celtics are 36-15 and in first place in the Eastern Conference, even though they have lost 3-of-4 (and needed overtime and a bad no-call on a LeBron James potential game-winner to get that victory). They have a top-five offense and defense in the league and have looked like the team to beat since the start of the season, even if they have had a few injuries and looked bored with the regular season of late.

Mazzulla deserves credit for helping the team move past former coach Ime Udoka was suspended due to an improper affair with a franchise employee. It could have been a distraction that blew up the Boston season, but he got them focused beyond that, and with that could get some Coach of the Year votes (in a crowded field).

First, however, he has to coach the All-Star Game.

Are Pistons going to hold on to Bojan Bodanovic into next season?

Milwaukee Bucks v Detroit Pistons
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For much of the run-up to the Feb. 9 trade deadline, Bojan Bogdanovic has been one of the best and most discussed players available. The 6’8″ wing who can knock down 3s and do some secondary shot creation could help a lot of teams.

One of those is the Pistons, who want to take a big step forward next season. Bogdanovic told Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype the front office spoke to him, and it doesn’t sound like he will get traded.

“Having conversations with the club, Troy [Weaver, general manager] and the owners, they assured me that we’re going to be great next year,” Bogdanovic said. “We have a lot of cap space to sign great players. We’re going to have a high pick again, so that’s going to help us a lot. We have a great young group of guys. When Cade [Cunningham] went down, that kind of hurt us big time. We were thinking that maybe we’d be fighting for the play-in tournament, but when he went down, he was our main guy. All of our offensive strategies were connected to him. When he went down, our season, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs without him.”

The Pistons reportedly have set the price for Bogdanovic at an unprotected first-round pick, which is very steep. This may simply be a case of Detroit being willing to keep Bogdanovic around if nobody wants to meet that price. They did just extend him for two years, $39.1 million and he would be the kind of professional veteran that is good to have in the locker room around a younger team.

Bogdanovic, for his part, would rather not hear the rumors.

“I heard the rumors, but I’m trying to stay away from those conversations,” Bogdanovic said. “I don’t even have any social media like Twitter. I don’t read much about that. It’s not in my control. It’s about the franchises. I’m just going to try and stay focused and play as best I can. Then, we’ll see what’s going to happen at the end of the trade deadline.”

The rumors are not going anywhere, they will stick around through the trade deadline. Bogdanovic may as well.

Report: Mavericks looking for another star at trade deadline. Good luck with that.

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Two things are true. First, the painted-over mural was right, the Dallas Mavericks desperately need a second star to go next to Luka Dončić. Second, they have backed themselves into a corner without the trade assets or cap space to easily make that happen.

It may be a longshot, but the Mavericks are open to trading anyone but Dončić to find that second star at the deadline, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News reminds us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise Dallas is open to this, of course they are.

The challenges start with, what star is available? The best player maybe on the market right now is John Collins or Bojan Bogdanovic, and while both would help the Mavericks neither is changing the team’s fortunes the way they would hope.

If Toronto decides to become sellers things get interesting. However, as of the latest reports, they are on the fence and telling teams they are waiting to decide what they will do at the deadline (sell, stand pat, or become buyers). Fred VanVleet could be available, and would essentially be a Jalen Brunson replacement, certainly a step up from where the Mavericks are currently. However, the Clippers and others could drive up the asking price, plus the Mavericks would have to step up and pay him this summer, VanVleet is expected to opt out of his $22.8 million contract. O.G. Anunoby would be a great fit next to Dončić, but he is not a star, he is more of a high-level role player.

Pascal Siakam could be that second star next to Dončić, a 6’8″ wing who can finish at the rim, shoot 3s, and would be a great secondary shot creator. It’s a good fit. Siakam is not an elite defender — Dallas would want some 3&D guys added to the roster — but he would be the kind of addition Dallas needs.

Dallas can offer its three first-round picks starting in 2024, but is some combination of those picks and Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and Dorian Finney-Smith going to entice the Raptors? They will look for a massive package for Siakam and likely see better offers than Dallas can construct.

It may not be easy to pull off, and likely will wait until the offseason (at the earliest), but know the Mavericks are serious about a second star.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.