It used to be met with suspicion when NBA players missed regular season games with questionable injuries.
Known euphemistically as “load management,” the concept is now so well established that it has become tongue in cheek and triggers an air of inmates running the shelter.
New York City radio host Frank Isola has a cheeky suggestion to get highly-paid athletes to dress more frequently.
“The NBA is the only sport they should start handing out prizes for, because you need the players to be involved,” Isola, who paired weekday morning with Celtics commentator Brian Scalperen on Sirius Satellite morning radio show, said, “The Starting Lineup. .”
“The most important thing is the absence of matches,” Isola added. “Michal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns has played in 80 games and led the league in minutes played this season. Nineteen years ago in the 2002-03 season he would have ranked 35th in minutes played. You know who would have been ahead, 39-year-old Karl Malone and Michael Jordan, 40 years old.
This penchant for selective duty in the age of max and super-max decades limits illicit enrichment, as players never have to return the money for the arbitrary choice of when and when not to play.
There are, of course, cases of serious injury in the fast-paced contact sport. But is the administration now trying to regain control of its institutions and put the players in a more subordinate position?
One of the main offenders was former Celtics guard Kyrie Irving. Last season, he made just 29 regular season games with the Brooklyn Nets and four playoffs, as the Celtics swept the nets in the first round.
A large number of his absences last season were due to his decision not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This decision prevented him from playing in 35 of 41 home games under the city’s mandatory vaccination law. Undoubtedly a talented player, Irving has in many other instances missed games or groups of games without any convincing excuse, sometimes orally throwing unsuspecting teammates under the bus.
“There are always teams that want a man as talented as this, but the most important thing for me is that he doesn’t play enough matches,” Isola said. “Before, if a player hadn’t played in more than 72 games, they didn’t think he had played that much. I think Kerry played last year in 29 games. If you just look at the matches that were played for him, you will always find something behind that. Regardless About how you feel about the vaccine, the fact that he didn’t play.
Irving landed in Brooklyn for the 2018-2019 season, having shot his way out of Boston, spending two crazy seasons with the Celtics. Few Bostonians, it seems, were sad to see him leave. And his demeanor didn’t win fans in Brooklyn either.
When the season ended, Irving was quoted as saying that he and teammate Kevin Durant would sit down with management and help chart a desirable course for next season. The hint of players’ influence on team decision makers doesn’t seem to strike the right chords with the Nets’ management.
General Manager Sean Marks, who has had an unenviable season dealing with Irving’s absences, traded unhappy James Harden, 32, to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and group shots. Simmons has not played a game with the Nets and recently underwent back surgery. Simmons requested a deal from Philadelphia after a feud with coach Doc Rivers in the previous playoffs. Each team seems to be trading a drama queen for a prima donna, but 25-year-old Simmons could benefit Brooklyn in the years to come.
Marks now has other choices to make. So does Irving, who has a $36.5 million option for next season. Irving could decide not to choose that option in hopes of essentially exchanging it for a four-year, $185 million deal. He might have assumed too much.
“We need people here who want to be here, selfless, who want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Marks recently told the New York media. “There is a goal and there is a goal at stake here. In order to do that, we will need availability from everyone.”
A year ago, Marks told the team’s fan base that they would re-sign Irving and Harden to long-term deals. This did not happen. He has learned that the super players of nowadays are not always loyal partners.
“They pay Keri a lot of money, and there’s always some kind of drama with him,” Isola said. There was always a lot of drama with LeBron [James], but LeBron always fulfilled. I always feel the team is willing to put up with your bullshit and drama if you win. But once you get to the point where it doesn’t, that changes. History has proven that it will break your heart. I think the Nets might be open to re-signing the guy, but they might want to do it on a short-term basis, and who can blame them for that? Will you give him four years? “
Harden has a $46.9 million option he can sign up for. If he decides to withdraw, he will be eligible for a five-year Supermax deal worth $270 million which will include a deal worth more than $61 million when he turns 37.
Harden is already beginning to show signs of declining in his production, averaging roughly 21.5 points per game this past season, down from 36.1 and 34.6 points per game in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons, respectively. Remarkably, he seemed to have lost the necessary rush of changing his speed that made him unguardable.
It would make sense for these super-fast deals to expire in about 32 years, like Houston guard John Wall’s four-year, $170 million contract. The player, who missed an entire season as well as a torn Achilles tendon, never held his contract, but the 31-year-old will be off the books within a year. Russell Westbrook, 33, has a $45 million player option for next season.
There are exceptions to aging that tires players out. The Celtics’ 36-year-old striker Al Horford is still playing phenomenally. But his personality type and the fact that he calmly accepted a supporting role makes him a perfect fit.
“The NBA is in this position where they seem to be awarding these contracts based on what I’ve already accomplished,” Isola said. “Everyone wanted to see Kobe Bryant dress up as the Lakers for the rest of his career. But they were losing with him all those years. But you look at all the players who had Super Max deals – John Wall, Russell Westbrook, who played well a couple of years ago but last season he didn’t play well. “Good. Kawhi Leonard has missed a whole season now. There’s always something going on with these people that you sign these huge contracts. They either miss games or they’re underperforming.”
The big question now is what direction the networks are moving. If Simmons comes back healthy, develops a jumping shot and changes position, the team can move forward without Irving. They still have Durant, some good players, and draft picks from the Sixers that can be turned into veteran acquisitions.
“There is no way Shawn Marks would say anything about Kyrie Irving unless it was well thought out,” Isola said. “I even think he alerted Kevin Durant about what he’s going to say to the media. So this isn’t just a quick note from Shawn Marks. The Nets know they invested a lot of money in this guy, but they really didn’t get much in return.”