NBA players are scheduled to play a minimum of 82, 48 minute basketball games a year. Not one athlete plays the entire 48 minutes - as a matter of fact, the majority of the league plays under 30 minutes per game. So for 82 nights out of a year, give or take, multi millionaire athletes are asked to give it their all for 30 minutes.
Obviously there are practices throughout the week and the travel gets rough at times, but the fact remains that, while athletes, they are also employees. The fans of the NBA are the reason these men are multi-millionaires. Without an audience, there would be no money.
This is not entirely new. I remember being a teenager when Shaq was the “Big Cactus” playing alongside Steve Nash for the Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash was my favorite player at the time and the Suns came to town around my birthday. I went to Grizzlies vs. Suns game with one goal — to watch the two time MVP play basketball in person.
The Grizzlies were so bad that Shaq and Nash both stayed in Phoenix. I was devastated as a fan because I spent my birthday money to go see my favorite player and he did not show. He was not hurt - neither of them were, it was for rest. They were confident the Suns could beat the Grizzlies that year without their two superstars.
It seems as if now it is becoming league wide — players are sitting out games for “load management.” Kawhi Leonard seems to be the greatest example of it at the moment, but Russell Westbrook just last week did not play against Ja Morant, who has been likened to him, and the Memphis Grizzlies for “load management.”
It is one thing if you are DeJounte Murray or Kristaps Porzingis coming off a torn ACL and you are managing their minutes to protect their health. But with no recent injury in mind, load management is a frustrating trend for fans. Sure, if you are the Clippers fans and you win the title, you won’t be upset Kawhi only played 70 games.
But if you are the Memphis Grizzlies and the only reason fans are coming to games is to see budding star Ja Morant play basketball, they should get to see him play basketball.
For the Memphis front office however, their concern is making sure Memphis fans get to see Ja for a long time.
The season began with an understanding that Jonas Valanciunas would have his minutes limited as he was coming off a foot in jury that kept him out all preseason. As the early part of the season began to unfold, it became obvious that there were minutes restrictions for Ja and Brandon Clarke as well.
It is understandable and even wise that the front office protect the bodies of the young guys as they find their footing in the league. Morant obviously needs to put on weight so that he doesn't get pushed around as he drives to the lane, so until then, you want to limit the amount of body blows he takes early.
In a year that is understood to be the beginning of a rebuild, one of the focuses should clearly be player development. Are the Grizzlies doing right by these players and their development by doing this?
This is a quote from Grizzly Bear Blues Editor Joe Mullinax and he is absolutely right. Part of the development for a player is learning how to finish a game or fight back in a fourth quarter. In the loss against the Houston Rockets, the Grizzlies were still in the game in the fourth, but due to this “load management” Morant was pulled out of the fourth quarter with nine minutes remaining, for three minutes — killing any rhythm the young star had. On that night Morant was easily the best player for the Grizzlies and taking him out just did not make sense.
Joe Mullinax also goes on to suggest letting Morant play over his “limit” if he has it going and just resting him the next game, which Memphis seemingly did this past weekend, sitting Ja on the second night of a back to back.
The front office and coaching staff must not get carried away with “protecting the future” and consequently delaying the so called future by stunting the growth of these players.
The word of the year is patience — and this is just another area that patience will be needed for the Memphis faithful. Patience with a plan and patience with a purpose. The rookies are getting to play and while fans may want to see them play more, wanting them to play for years in Beale Street Blue has to be the end goal. So while the plan is great, there must be patience with a rookie head coach as he works through his method of “load management.”