Rockets likely to use load management for James Harden, Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets talks with James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets talks with James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images) /

On Tuesday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey discussed potentially putting both James Harden and Russell Westbrook on a load management program to keep them fresh for the postseason.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook are two guys that just love to hoop. Both have been known to play through injuries and they aren’t the type of players to immediately look to the bench when they start to feel fatigued. However, that type of attitude can work against some players once they start to get older and the Rockets want to keep their stars in great shape.

Russell Westbrook has already entered his 30’s and James Harden will turn 30 on August 26. We’ve seen both Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, two all-time greats who have played a lot of extra basketball in the postseason, rupture their achilles either in the playoffs or at the end of the regular season in this decade. Bryant was never quite the same after his achilles injury and we’ll have to wait and see how KD looks once he returns.

In order to decrease the likely hood of Harden or Westbrook suffering a catastrophic injury, Houston will likely put their stars on some type of load management program next season. In his appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, Daryl Morey said that the Rockets will put together a plan to have their dynamic duo running on all cylinders to begin the postseason, via The Athletic’s Alykhan Bijani.

“Yeah, it always is (part of the strategy). We try not to label it….Yeah, it’ll be a very put together plan by our staff throughout the season to have our guys peak in April.”

Morey didn’t say if the Rockets will strategically sit Harden and Westbrook throughout the season on the second night of back-to-backs, or if they’ll just simply limit their minutes. Morey also mentioned that they try not to give their program a name, which is likely an attempt to avoid media scrutiny and any pushback from the players.

Speaking of player resistance, Harden made it clear that he was not a fan of load management back in March, saying that he prefers to play while he still can, via Mike Chiari of Bleacher Report.

“What is that? I’m a hooper. I love to hoop. I know hooping isn’t gonna be here forever, so I love to get out there and compete. The best days are when your legs are a little tired and your shots isn’t falling. Those are the best days because you gotta figure a way to get through it. I love to go out there and compete and hoop.”

While you have to love Harden’s competitive fire, you could also argue that players do benefit from additional rest. Kawhi Leonard missed 22 games last season as Toronto elected to strategically rest him, and as a result Leonard peaked in the playoffs and carried the Raptors to their first championship in franchise history. Leonard even admitted that he wouldn’t have been playing in the Finals if he didn’t rest throughout the season.

We also saw the San Antonio Spurs rest their aging veterans like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili over the years. As a result, those players remained effective well into their 30’s and San Antonio never fell out of the playoff picture with that group. In fact, Duncan averaged 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds on 56.9 percent shooting as he helped lead the Spurs to their 5th championship in the 2014 Finals. That’s not bad for a player who was 38 years old and in his 17th season at the time.

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A lot of people don’t like the idea of load management, but if it keeps our best players healthy and sharp for the playoffs, I’m all for it. The Rockets, along with Harden and Westbrook at this point in their careers, aren’t going to be judged by what they accomplish in the regular season. It’s all about the playoffs and winning championships for this group and they should take all of the necessary steps and precautions to make that goal happen.