Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau believes Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis should not be rested against Nets
Let’s say you’re a Lakers fan and you stretched the family budget to buy four tickets for their game Monday night against the Nets at Barclays Center.
How ticked off would you be to find out that the two players you wanted most to see, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, have suddenly appeared on the injury report? How upsetting is it that the superstars you wanted to watch are skipping your game but are expected to play the following night against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden?
Well, at least one NBA coach thinks you have every right to be upset about the way load management is impacting the game and the fan experience.
Tom Thibodeau, whose Knicks will likely host a healthy-enough-to-play James and Davis Tuesday night, said after his team’s practice Monday that he understands coaches have to trust their medical people, but he doesn’t like the impact that resting players has on the game today.
“I believe there has to be a respect for the game. I know with Patrick [Ewing] and Michael [Jordan] and guys like that, even in exhibition games, they played,” Thibodeau said. “Patrick, he would play in all of ‘em. Even in a remote city he said he felt that obligation. He may not play the whole game, but he felt the obligation to the game, to the fans, to do that. And I think that’s important.
“If the season is too long, then maybe we need to shorten the season or eliminate the back-to-backs. So, it seems like that’s the path we’re going down and I don’t like the idea of sitting out games. But that’s where we are today.”
The Lakers are far from the only team that rests their superstars at key times in order to lessen the load on nagging injuries or aging bodies. Nets coach Jacque Vaughn took load management to an extreme against Indiana on Dec. 10 when he rested all five starters and his two top reserves and the Nets won anyway. Golden State rested four of its regular starters — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins — in Cleveland this month on the second night of a back-to-back.
Yet, the impact of this move by the Lakers is magnified given that the games are back-to-back in the same city and James is only 117 points away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring mark. People who bought tickets even three days ago to the game at Barclays Center thought they were buying a chance to see history in the making as James closes in on the record. Now, they just feel skipped over.
Of course, load management isn’t the only thing about the league that has changed over the years. There is some thought that there should be an asterisk or explanation next to James’ record given the different circumstances under which he and Abdul-Jabbar played.
There was no three-point shot until Abdul-Jabbar’s 11th season in the league and the center — like all big men of his day — rarely attempted it once there was. Abdul-Jabbar scored his 38,387 points despite going 1-for-18 from three-point range in his 20-year playing career.
. More than a few of James points have come on three-pointers as he has made 2,228 of his 6,468 attempts (34.4%).
Of course, you can only play the hand that you are dealt in the era you were dealt it. Thibodeau, who coached James on Team USA and has coached against him for years, says that it’s James’ ability to modify what he does as he gets older and the game changes that makes him such a great player.
“It’s not only the physical tools. It’s the mental tools,” Thibodeau said. ‘I think he’s adapted to all the changes in the game. I think he’s been a great student of the game. He understands the history of the game, all those things and he’s embraced it all.
“He keeps changing as the games change. Whatever rule changes come, he adapts to those. And that’s what makes him who he is . . . You hate to compare players to each other and all that, and I still don’t think you’re gonna be able to truly measure LeBron until he’s done.”
Of course, that could be a few more years, which I guess gives some hope to those fans who did not get to witness his greatness Monday night at Barclays Center.