Stan Van Gundy uses MJ’s last NBA season as an argument against load management

Stan Van Gundy uses MJ’s last NBA season as an argument against load management

When asked about whether or not Patrick Beverley and D’Angelo Russell will be back for Wednesday’s game against the Jazz, Chris Finch said, “we hope to have Patrick back.” There was no mention of Russell.

Did Finch take a subtle shot at Russell?

The 25-year-old point guard missed Monday’s game against the Hawks due to right ankle soreness — the Timberwolves lost 121-110, despite Karl-Anthony Towns’ 31-point effort. Minnesota is now 11-13, sitting as the No.9 seed in the West.

Four years after snapping a 13-year playoff drought, with the emergence of Anthony Edwards and star-level impact from KAT, T-Wolves finally seem ready to make another run at the postseason. Winning home games against teams like the Hawks, currently languishing around the same level of mediocrity (13-12), is the prerequisite for them to get there. But such a jump won’t be possible without their core guys’ constant availability — Russell included.

Why is that even a question twenty-four games into the season, after D’Angelo missed a game with a sore ankle? This might be reading too deep into it, but Finch’s words from just a day after the Hawks game, although seemingly directed at no one per se, might’ve been prompted by Russell sitting out.

“If you bought a ticket to see Jordan you were going to see Jordan”

Depending on the severity of Russel’s injury, Finch might’ve taken a subtle shot at his starting point guard. But more importantly, the Wolves head coach addressed something that has been a dividing issue around the league for a long time, until the NBA implemented rules that were supposed to reduce load managing.

The dust has seemingly settled since, but teams still sit out their stars regularly. Buying tickets to see your favorite player in person is still a risky venture, despite the NBA’s efforts to minimize the chance of such an occurrence. A few decades ago, such dread wasn’t something fans had to deal with, not even when buying tickets to see the 39-year-old Michael Jordan playing through his farewell NBA season with the Wizards.

MJ playing all 82 games wasn’t just exclusive for his final year in the league — he played in all 82 games nine times and had two other times when he played at least 80 games. In today’s NBA, only a handful of superstars are willing to do the same thing.

Long-term wise, is that good for their health? Probably. Will it prolong their careers? Perhaps. But is it in some sense disrespectful to former players, as well as the fans? No doubt about it. Kobe Bryant sure thought that way.

“What the hell is that?” Bryant said. “I don’t know what that is. That’s crazy. Seriously, it’s crazy. You’ve got a lot of people paying their hard-earned money to come watch you perform. Perform. Perform. It’s your job to be in shape. It’s your job to be strong enough to perform at that level every single night.” 

Russell remains questionable for tonight’s game against Utah due to an ankle injury. Is he injured? Probably. But based on what Finch said, there’s at least reason to be doubtful about it. Because if you think players, stars especially, don’t have the luxury to sit out games at will, you have another thing coming. And there doesn’t even need to be a reason for it.

Finch himself said that “players these days , with the growth of load management, have people telling them all the time how tired they are. And they begin beliving it.” The league tried to contain it, but the NBA’s most dividing phenomenon is still present. And based on what we’ve seen thus far, it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.