How an Abbreviated Offseason is a Health Risk for NBA Players – Sports Medicine Weekly | Dr. Brian J. Cole
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Published on: 13-Nov-2020

The NBA will have a special Christmas gift for their fans: a December 22 start to the 2020−2021 season. That means the offseason will be the league’s shortest ever at just 72 days, compared to the normal offseason which usually lasts around 155 days. It is also shorter than the 2017−18 offseason, which was previously the shortest offseason on record at 127 days.

This is great news for NBA fans, who will get to see their favorite teams and players back in action soon. But for many of the league’s players, especially oft-injured stars like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, this might not be the best of news. One player, in particular, who has voiced his displeasure on the NBA’s December 22 start is 35-year-old LeBron James, whose Lakers are coming off a grueling title run.

With James likely to return to an intact lineup, the Purple and Gold look formidable once more, and are predicted by Bwin Sports to be the top team for the up-coming 2020−2021 season — ahead of their cross-town ri-vals, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Golden State Warriors; and the Milwaukee Bucks. An early start to the season, though, could torpedo the Lakers’ chances in the form of a potentially slow start, with LeBron hinting of taking it easy in the first few weeks to let his body recover, and then acclimatizing to the new season and possibly another deep playoff run.

It wouldn’t be surprising either if James acquiesces to some load management, where teams rest their best players to “pre-serve” them for the playoffs. It isn’t something that the NBA embraces, but is nonetheless a widespread practice all across the league — and for good reason. Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph explains that load management helps keep players healthy during the course of a long, grueling season, and this rest can lessen their risk of injury. Ironically, this offseason might actually be putting NBA players at risk.

In fact, CBS Sports reports that health officials around the league are greatly worried about the potential health implications of this abbreviated offseason. “It’s going to be especially challenging to not only get ready to play December 22 or whatever,” said the head athletic trainer of one Western Conference team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is the bubble times three or four or five [because we’re] trying to extend it to that period of time with a minimal ramp-up.”

Another official, this time involved with player health, ex-pressed his own apprehensions noting how players from non-bubble teams who haven’t played for eight to nine months will be fully ready physically and in game shape by December 22.

“You have to consider what these super high-end exertions are, the max speed, cutting and multi-directional movement and the high-end athletic environment that only a game can give you,” explained the official, who requested anonymity too. “When you see the teams that were fortunate enough to go to Orlando, they got that stimulus as recently as 120 days ago. For the two finalists, it is a pretty quick turnaround to allow for full recovery. But it’s a far greater thing for some-one to not have that stimulus since March.”

Indeed, the NBA are charting unknown territory, and in doing so, they are needlessly exposing their players to less-than-ideal circumstances, like playing a compressed 72-game schedule through April and miles upon miles of travel (some-thing that the 22 bubble teams didn’t have to do). This is tantamount to an increased workload, and it can potentially lead to a slew of injuries — and lots of DNPs-CD (Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision) due to load management.

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