Leave it to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to offer an interesting and unusual perspective on the NBA’s biggest controversy: load management.
Players such as Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Russell Westbrook, and even rookie Ja Morant are sitting out games not only to nurse nagging injuries but to preserve their bodies for the long season. There are those NBA observers who believe such a practice is damaging the game, especially for the fans who buy tickets to watch the stars play but instead see them in blazers at the end of the bench.
Cuban believes that league research has proven that load management is a positive. Cuban went even further in his praise of the practice.
“I think it’s the best thing to ever happen to the league,” he said this past week. “The problem isn’t load management. I think teams have to be smarter about when they load manage that we have rules in place, if there’s a back-to-back.”
Cuban believes load management is a good way for teams to preserve their stars for the playoffs. He suggested that in the 1980s and ’90s the quality of basketball was hindered by fatigue, with the league’s top players near exhaustion when the postseason arrived.
“Worse than missing a player in a game is missing him in the playoffs,” he said. “And if you go back to the days where guys played 42 minutes a game and there were 10 guys in the league playing 40-plus minutes, the quality of the game wasn’t nearly as good. We gave them a hard time about being worn out or saving themselves for the fourth quarter, and now all the data says you maintain their usage levels over the course of the season with rest, so you’re seeing guys playing 36 minutes, which is a lot.
“You’ll see guys able to play more minutes in the playoffs, so you’re able to get more of your stars, look at Kawhi and how much he played. So you get shorter rotations and more of your guys playing in the playoffs, which really is what you want to see anyway.”
When it was suggested that the owners would never agree to a reduced schedule, which is becoming an increasingly popular solution to player fatigue, Cuban said the number of games wasn’t the issue.
“We’re looking at a lot of different things, but it’s not reduced schedules because if we played 66 games you’d still see the same thing,” he said. “Because you’d want to have your guys ready to peak going into the playoffs. Load management seems bad now, early in, but it doesn’t seem so bad when your best players are in the playoffs playing 40 minutes and able to do it.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich began the practice of load management several years ago, giving aging veterans Tim Duncan and Tony Parker nights off. Cuban said Popovich wasn’t exactly trying to be an innovator, it was gamesmanship.
“Pop was doing it just to [mess] with people,” Cuban said. “Now it’s all data-driven. We’re not going, ‘OK, let’s just do it to mess with the league and our meal ticket, the fans, and just do something just because it might be interesting.’ We spent so much money on not just analytics but biometrics to know how smart we could be.”
A DIFFERENT WAY
Carlisle adapts for pair of stars
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has the good fortune of working with MVP candidate Luka Doncic and a healthy Kristaps Porzingis, and he’s acknowledged changing his style to fit the two unconventional players. Doncic is a 6-foot-7-inch guard and Porzingis is a 7-3 stretch power forward.
Carlisle has had to adjust to different styles over his 18 years as a head coach, but he’s embracing this change. The Mavericks have been waiting for years to be relevant again after winning the 2011 title, and Carlisle has custom fit his offense to his two cornerstone players.
“The truth is the game has changed a lot, particularly over the last couple of years, and it’s not just a cut-and-paste recipe type of thing,” Carlisle said. “Our style of play has changed a lot, our philosophies have adjusted over time. There certainly are conceptual things that have to do with skill development and some actual play calls, but it was a bit of a mixture.”
Porzingis missed all of last season with a torn ACL after being acquired from the Knicks.
Doncic was a question mark after being drafted third overall, and then traded to the Mavericks on draft night, in 2018.
Doncic has turned out to be a generational type of player, the perfect player to transition from the Dirk Nowitzki era.
Porzingis could turn into one of the league’s top forwards if he stays healthy and consistent.
The process is about the duo learning to play together, and Carlisle said he understands they are going to make mistakes and he has to accept those errors for the sake of progress.
“There’s a balance, for sure, especially in today’s game,” Carlisle said. “You can’t slow down today’s game too much. It becomes arduous for the players. We want basketball players, playmakers and reactors, not thinkers and play callers. I encourage our point guards to do a majority of the play calling. If they look over and they want something I’ll be happy to give them something, but the game flows better and generally moves better when guys do that stuff or we’re playing out of our base game.”
It didn’t take long for Carlisle to realize Doncic wasn’t a stretch-4, as had been advertised before the trade. He’s a pure point guard, and one of the league’s toughest matchups at that position.
So in the middle of last season, Carlisle switched Doncic to the point, making former lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr. expendable.
“This is one of those things you just have a feeling about, and it certainly was going to change a lot about how we view the roster, but he’s a grabbed ahold of the job and certainly hasn’t let go of it,” Carlisle said of the 20-year-old Doncic. “It is a balance and it’s going along, everyone’s feel is getting a little bit better.”
When asked what player he could remember that had such command of an offense at such an early age, Carlisle made an interesting comparison.
“I played with Mark Jackson when was a rookie in New York and Rick Pitino had the same feeling about Mark Jackson, this guy was the guy to run the team in the near term and the long term,” Carlisle said. “Rick turned it over to him and when he did, I was on a team that had early struggles and on the last day of the season won a game at Indiana by a point and made the playoffs. From there, Mark’s career continued to take off.
“The style of today’s game compared to back then is quite different, but both of those players, Jackson and Luka, have an amazing overall view of the game and feel for delivering the ball on time and on target. Mark played with Patrick Ewing, Gerald Wilkins, and some other exciting young players and some great shooters, Trent Tucker. We’re building the team around Luka and Kristaps. But that’s how I view it.”
One of the more overshadowed players from the Porzingis deal was swingman Tim Hardaway Jr., who had signed a four-year, $71 million deal to return to the Knicks a year before, only to be thrown into the trade to make the salaries match. Hardaway is third on the Mavericks in scoring (11.6 points per game) — behind Doncic and Porzingis — despite playing just 23.2 minutes per game off the bench.
“We like Tim. We thought he was a very, very good player,” Carlisle said. “Health was an issue when he got here. He wasn’t right. He was trying to play, trying to push through, so we shut it down with three weeks left in the [2018-19] season. He’s doing great now. He’s just a different player. He’s strong. He has confidence in his body, and when you have that it’s easier to get your rhythm back.”
Dallas’s patience finally paying off
Owner Mark Cuban is finally watching a playoff-contending team after some hard years in Dallas. The Mavericks are off to an impressive start behind Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. There have been inconsistencies, but the Mavericks are going to be in the mix.
“I don’t think we’ve meshed completely yet,” Cuban said. “We’ve competed and put ourselves in a position to win and won some close games, but I don’t think we’ve really meshed yet. We’re still adjusting, so hopefully we can get a lot better. We’re recognizing who we are. [Porzingis] hasn’t played in 21 months, literally, and I’m excited because he’s a lot further along than I thought he would be at this point, a lot less rusty than I thought, and the rust is disappearing very quickly.”
The Mavericks have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since winning the title eight years ago, and they haven’t reached the playoffs since 2016.
Cuban tried delving into free agency with DeAndre Jordan and Harrison Barnes, but that didn’t work.
They were fortunate the Kings passed on Doncic in favor of Marvin Bagley with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, and made the franchise-changing trade to get Doncic for No. 5 overall pick Trae Young on draft night.
The Mavericks then acquired Porzingis for draft picks and Dennis Smith Jr., as the Knicks were looking to dump salary to chase free agents.
Porzingis has struggled at times, but he’s coming off major knee injury. He targeted Dallas when he asked for a trade last February.
“It’s a players’ league and Kris is a smart guy,” Cuban said. “He’s maturing, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. He said many times he realized he wasn’t going to be a basketball player his entire life, and he’s just come in and been incredible. The guy is a bona fide superstar. He’s putting up ungodly numbers and he’s still rusty.”
When asked if he was pleased with the Porzingis trade, Cuban said: “So far, so good, you never know until you know. There are only so many guys in this league who are game-time players, and Luka and [Porzingis], we’ve got two of them.”
As for Doncic, he’s fourth in the league in scoring at 28.7 points per game.
He dropped 34 on the Celtics this past week and is turning into an unstoppable force because of his ability to drive and yet shoot from the 3-point line.
“He’s getting layups all the time,” Cuban said. “Last year, we didn’t have the ability to spread the court and he hadn’t learned it all, so you put all those things together and he’s been great at it. Obviously, it’s not easy [to win], those were three painful years. Hopefully, it stops there. We have guys who want to be champions, so they work hard.”
Bowman adjusting on the fly
Former Boston College guard Ky Bowman is not only making the adjustment to the NBA, but also doing it while playing mostly point guard. Bowman was a scoring guard during his three years with the Eagles.
He knows he’s not only auditioning for a full-time NBA deal from the Warriors but from the other 29 clubs, since he’ll be a free agent next summer.
“A lot of people get caught up in trying to be something different. It’s kind of a mental thing, just establish what you have to do,” he said. “I’m getting an opportunity a lot of people don’t get. Nobody has been able to get the opportunity I got to not having to spend one day in the G League.”
The biggest adjustment for Bowman is running a team, determining when to shoot and when to pass, and also when to initiate the offense with regard to the shot clock.
“I love Ky, he’s a competitor,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He plays hard every night, with the football background. He’s going to attack. He’s aggressive at both ends. We’re trying to teach him the finer points of playing point guard, managing the game, understanding time and score, when to look for your shot, when to move the ball.
“He was really a scoring guard at BC, so at his size he has to be a point guard in the NBA and he’s got to put a lot of pressure on his opponent defensively. He knows that. He’s done a good job of that in the early going and he’s gaining valuable experience.”
The Trail Blazers finally stepped up and became the team to sign former All-Star Carmelo Anthony out of unemployment. At 4-8 and desperate for forward help, Portland signed the 35-year-old to a nonguaranteed contract after he had spent a year out of the league. Anthony long maintained his desire to play after his unceremonious exit from the Rockets. Anthony won’t be the savior in Portland, but he will add some offensive punch for one of the league’s most disappointing teams . . . The Knicks have beaten the Mavericks twice in 10 days, and perhaps the second win helped save coach David Fizdale’s job. Fizdale was under fire after general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills called a bizarre impromptu news conference following a Nov. 10 blowout loss to the Cavaliers to address the team’s 2-8 start. The news conference may have been designed to create separation between management and Fizdale, who was hired prior to last season. The jury remains out as to whether Fizdale is an elite coach or even close. He was fired after 101 games with the Grizzlies because of his strained relationship with Marc Gasol. The Knicks finished 17-65 last season but expected to rebound with two major free agents. Instead, they were rejected by the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and instead signed patchwork players Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris, and Elfrid Payton. Thirsting for star power and signing players to short-term contracts, the Knicks have lacked a direction and style. Two of their three wins have come against Dallas, and the other was a fourth-quarter comeback against the Bulls. Fizdale can’t be blamed for the roster, but he can be blamed for not establishing a style and playing musical chairs with his point guards. He has shuttled Payton, Smith, and Frank Ntilikina into the position with little continuity . . . Could Tony Parker have been a Celtic? According to Parker, he worked out for the Celtics and expected to be a first-round pick of Boston in the 2001 draft. The Celtics had three first-rounders in that draft and selected former North Carolina forward Joseph Forte with the 21st pick. Forte played eight games for the Celtics and 25 in the league overall. Parker, a likely future Hall of Famer, was drafted 28th that year by San Antonio.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.