NBA Champ Raptors, Load Management, Kawhi Leonard, and a whole lot more

For the record, the following are excerpts from five insightful articles I found to read re “Load Management” as used by NBA Champion team Raptors on its players including MVP superstar Kawhi Leonard. Pay attention to mentions of Alex McKechnie, Raptors’ director of sports science (hired by Raptors in 2011) who now has six, yes SIX,  NBA championship rings!

Let me start by sharing this cool bonus video that I found online:

How Toronto Raptors’ Alex McKechnie Built a Career in the NBA

Article #1 (This, by far, is the most insightful one out of the series of four)

June 1, 2019 Sportsnet, “The maestro of load management has been key to Raptors’ playoff success” Here is an excerpt (with emphasis added),

The Raptors were 17-5 when Leonard sat in the regular season but his value — and the value of Toronto’s patience — has been proven in the post-season.

The Raptors are 22 points better per 100 possessions with Leonard on the floor than when he sits, which is why Nurse has leaned on him so heavily when the games have mattered most.

That Nurse has been able to do so reflects the outsized impact of the club’s director of sports science, Alex McKechnie, a white-haired senior citizen with a Scottish accent who has as much influence in the organization as anyone other than Nick Nurse and president Masai Ujiri.

When the Raptors traded for Leonard, who had missed 73 games in San Antonio in 2017-18 due to an unspecified right quadriceps injury, a Raptors insider texted McKechnie with a simple message:

“You’re the most important person in the organization now.”

Managing the load
When Leonard arrived in Toronto, he made his priorities clear — after establishing that he was, indeed, “a fun guy” — a few minutes into his opening press conference on the eve of training camp.

He was asked: What does he want for his career?

“Just be able to be healthy, that’s my No. 1 goal,” he said. “Play a long, healthy career [and] be able to be dominant, wherever I land.”

He’s dominant. He showed it all season long as he posted career highs in points (26.6) and rebounds (7.3) and was second-team All-NBA and second-team all-defence despite playing just 60 games — missing most of the other 22 due to “load management.”

The term is a medical one, recognized by the NBA and deemed an acceptable reason for teams to sit out players who aren’t otherwise acutely injured or ill. It was McKechnie — who’s in his 19th NBA season and seventh with the Raptors — who made the term part of the lexicon and was responsible for managing the load by keeping track of Leonard’s fitness through a combination of biometric measures, outside medical opinions and feel.

Shortly after he joined the Raptors, McKechnie — who was not made available to be interviewed for this story — described his approach, honed after more than 40 years working in the field, as a blend of science and instinct born of thousands of hours of in-field experience.

“When we look at rehabilitation and training and conditioning, there’s a science to it, [but] once you establish the science the trainer becomes an artist, and so it’s really painting that individual’s picture,” McKechnie told Raptors.com in 2012.

“For example, you’re not going to do the same things you may for a post-up player as you would for a guard. Totally different approach to the training protocols. In much the same way that we look at a player shooting on his right side as a guy shooting from his left. There’s a completely different set of default postures that we look at.

The following excerpt is also very insightful (with emphasis added) but again, I recommend you read the whole report “The maestro …“,

“Even within the team, there were questions that have only been answered as Leonard has put his foot on the gas in the playoffs.

“We didn’t care that much he wasn’t playing. I was kind of happy about it, to be honest with you,” says VanVleet who typically started when Leonard sat out.

“The only thing is he doesn’t really talk a whole lot so you never really knew when he was or wasn’t going to play and they certainly didn’t post his schedule on the wall so we knew what games he wasn’t going to play.

“A lot of times we wouldn’t find out until five minutes before he went out for the game so halfway through [the season],” says VanVleet. “So I started asking him, ‘Hey man, you playing?’ and I’d get some extra shots up because I knew I was going to start on the second night of back-to-backs.”

Those close to the team acknowledge there were some awkward moments in the early going as Leonard’s reserved personality, sporadic schedule and on-going speculation on where he might land in free agency were hiccups that had to be overcome in the team-building process.

As Leonard took on more and more responsibility in the post-season, the concerns eased. When he played 52 minutes while clearly struggling through discomfort in a must-win double-overtime win in Game 3 against Milwaukee [K: See video highlights below], they evaporated. When Leonard insisted on playing in Game 4 [K: See video highlights below]even when several notches less than 100 per cent, his teammates knew he was willing to lay it on the line to help them win a title.

“It all makes sense when you get to this point,” said VanVleet. “Throughout the season we’re all grinding, we’re all hurting, we’re all having dog days.

“I certainly would have liked to take some time off for my back a couple of times, but that was a plan this team had and you trust the medical staff. They put together a good plan, and it worked.”

The Raptors had a plan for Kawhi from Day 1

The process was a deliberate one.

“Me missing games isn’t just to keep me fresh,” Leonard said in late March in his most revealing statement on the load-management strategy. “It’s [about] making sure I don’t reinjure something that I was out for last year. Like I said before, they’ve been doing a good job of reading images and making sure that I’m improving instead of declining on the health side. […]

For the Raptors, it all justified a leap of faith they made in trading DeMar DeRozan — one of the most durable stars in the NBA — for a higher-ceiling performer, but one whose long-term health seemed to be a question mark.

Having McKechnie as a resource eased the risk profile.

“It was all by design,” says Raptors general manager Bobby Webster of Leonard’s load management. “It goes back to when we did the deal. You have to properly assess the issue and come up with a plan — it started on July 18th [when the deal was finalized].

“We’ve been doing the plan the entire the season and Alex and the medical group was huge. They’re huge in any deal. They get a file [of medical data] and they have to make an assessment.

“The great thing about Alex is this is not his first rodeo and that relationship between the athlete and medical point person is really important.”

Results count.

“None of this matters if he doesn’t play at the level he’s playing at,” says VanVleet. “It’s been impressive to see that and everyone looks like geniuses and the training staff should get a raise and [Raptors president Masai Ujiri] and all those guys look really smart.

“But the guy who looks the best out of the whole thing is Kawhi.”

McKechnie looks pretty good too.

The Glasgow native was not always the maestro of load management. He used to be the minister of pain.

Charlotte Hornets associate head coach and former Canadian men’s national team head coach Jay Triano has known McKechnie since before he had a mane of white hair. The Scotsman was the athletic therapist for Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., where Triano played and McKechnie doubled as the strength and conditioning coach as well.

“We f—ing hated him,” says Triano, joking but not entirely.

Known now for his skill in carefully returning players to full health, at that time McKechnie had a special gift for making conditioning more difficult, mind-bending and painful.

“Commando crawls back and forth across the gym until your elbows were raw” says Triano. “A lot of peer pressure. A contest to see who could hold a half push-up position the longest. The first person who failed would have to watch everyone else run because it was you who let everyone down.

“You’d be doing wall sits and he’d come sit on your knees when your legs were shaking,” says Triano, as if scrolling through a catalogue of the phys-ed teacher from hell. “You’d do a drill and he’d ask you if it hurt and if you said ‘no’ he’d say, ‘You didn’t do it hard enough, do it again.’ If you said ‘yes’ he’d say, ‘You’re not in shape, do it again.’

“He always had something to say, always with a barb,” says Triano. “Sometimes we would be like, ‘We’ll do whatever you want, just stop talking.’”

One drill involved running down to the bottom of a steep hill through the woods and coming back with a rock. The catch? The person with the smallest rock had to do it again.

It was the 1970s.

By the late 1990s McKechnie had developed a reputation as a science-based therapist who had a knack for diagnosing and treating the abdomen and groin, and strengthening those hard-to-manage areas to enhance healing and prevent further injuries. He worked with NHL players and the Canadian national soccer team.

In 1998 he got his biggest client — in every sense — as then-Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal came to see him seeking treatment for painful lower abdominal tears that were threatening his career. For two summers O’Neal spent his time in Vancouver training with McKechnie and in 1999-2000, turned in one of the best seasons in NBA history.

After missing an average of 29 games a year for the previous four seasons, he played 79 games and 40 minutes a night — both career highs — and averaged 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds and three blocked shots. The Lakers went 67-15, won the NBA title — the first of three straight — and O’Neal won the league MVP award in a landslide.

“He saved me,” said O’Neal when he was in Toronto broadcasting the Eastern Conference Finals for TNT. “I had torn my abdomen on both sides and if I had surgery in a contract year I probably wouldn’t have got the money that I got and wouldn’t have been able to keep playing the way I did. “I didn’t know anything about him. When I had this injury they sent me to three of the top abdominal specialists in the world. A guy in Boston, a guy in Orange County [California] and Alex.

“The guy in Boston: You need surgery, you’ll be out a year.

“The guy in Orange County: You’ll need surgery and be out nine months.

“I go see Alex and he says, ‘You’ll need surgery but I can fix the areas around it and you’ll be able to keep playing. Just do what I tell you to do every day and you’ll get stronger and stronger.’

“Alex was right.”

The Lakers eventually hired McKechnie full time as their athletic performance co-ordinator, and he was on staff for five NBA titles in 10 seasons.

While his career was well-established before he joined the Lakers, his time there has given McKechnie the kind of platform that provides instant respect. Just ask him.

“He says if you come over to dinner at his place he uses his five championship rings as napkin holders,” says Triano.

Rings for napkin holders?

“I would not be surprised,” says VanVleet. “That sounds like Alex. I’m surprised he doesn’t wear them every day.

“But that pedigree matters. It’s easier to gain a guy’s trust if you know the work he’s been doing. But you work with him a few times and you realize he knows his stuff. He has the respect of everybody.”

Triano and Colangelo helped bring McKechnie to T.O.
It was Triano who helped facilitate his old friend joining the Raptors. During the 2011 NBA lockout, the Lakers allowed the contracts of several staffers to lapse as a cost-saving measure. At the time, then-Raptors president Bryan Colangelo wanted to upgrade Toronto’s training and medical staff. Triano, who was working for the Raptors in an executive role in 2011-12 after having been fired as head coach the season before, suggested McKechnie.

“Bryan said, ‘Who?’ and I said Alex, the Lakers … and he said ‘No, no, I know who he is, but how are we going to get him?’” says Triano. “I always kept in touch with Alex and I knew he wasn’t being paid by the Lakers during the lockout.”

The deal was done over a weekend, and while no amount of medical intervention can keep basketball players injury-free — the Raptors will have had four different players undergo thumb surgeries this season, presuming Kyle Lowry has a procedure on his left thumb after the Finals — their track record for soft-tissue strains and tears is, anecdotally quite good. In 2017-18 the top 11 players in the Raptors’ rotation in minutes per game played at least 70 games, and four of their five starters missed 17 games combined.

McKechnie’s influence may be difficult to quantify, but he’s earned the trust of another former Spurs veteran coming off a season spent struggling with a hard-to-quantify injury in his groin area.

Danny Green loves Alex McKechnie.

“He had a great breakdown of how it feels,” Green said of his groin issues that hampered him last season. “Some days you could play, you felt solid, other days you couldn’t laugh because it hurt so much.

“We had different looks at it and we couldn’t figure out what it was,” said Green, a 10-year veteran who turns 32 next month. “But [McKechnie] could tell what it was and knew how to treat it correctly.”

Game 1 of the Finals was Green’s 99th of the season out of 101 regular-season and playoff starts. If Green suits up for the remainder of the series, he’ll surpass his personal record for total games played in a season, set in 2012-13 when he was 25 years old and the Spurs lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Green works with McKechnie almost daily and can be seen on-court before games diligently doing activation exercises with McKechnie’s patented Core X System of elastic tubing. The trainer leads Green through a series of basketball-specific patterns with tension created by the tubing to activate and strengthen the myriad of muscles in the abdominal and pelvic area that are fundamental to athletic movement but are tricky to train.

Article #2a

April 9, 2019 Sportsnet, “What is load management and why do the Raptors use it on Kawhi Leonard?

“Just a few hours before the Toronto Raptors were scheduled to play the Washington Wizards on Oct. 20, the team’s public relations department sent out an intriguing injury update.

“Out: Rest – Kawhi Leonard, load management.”

Wait, “load management?” Was this just some fancy way of saying Leonard needed some rest?

The Oct. 20 game would be Toronto’s first time playing the second game of a back-to-back. Since then, “load management” has become one of the defining terms of the Raptors 2018-19 season, with Leonard sitting out 12 additional games under the designation. Additionally, Leonard hasn’t played in both ends of a back-to-back all year, resulting in him having played just 59 of a possible 81 games, heading into Tuesday night’s regular-season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But when you factor in how effective he’s been when he’s been on the court, it’s hard to argue with the results to date.

So what exactly is load management?

According to an IOC Consensus statement on load management published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2016, “the aim of load management is to optimally configure training, competition and other load to maximise adaptation and performance with a minimal risk of injury. Load management therefore comprises the appropriate prescription, monitoring and adjustment of external and internal loads.”

In other words, load management isn’t just about minimizing injury risk in a player. It’s about optimizing that player’s effectiveness over the long-term.

As it relates to Leonard and the Raptors, it’s important to remember Leonard played just nine games last season due to a quad injury and an alleged breakdown in trust between he and the San Antonio Spurs over his rehabilitation.

So when the Raptors traded for the two-time defensive player of the year last summer, building trust with Leonard and managing his health became a top priority for the team. Not only to keep him happy and help the team’s chances to re-sign him when he becomes a free agent this summer, but to keep him on the floor for what the Raptors hope will be a deep playoff beginning this weekend.”

Article #3

IOC Consensus statement – How much is too much? (Part 1) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of injury

Abstract of the full PDF article that you can download for free,

“Athletes participating in elite sports are exposed to high training loads and increasingly saturated competition calendars. Emerging evidence indicates that poor load management is a major risk factor for injury. The International Olympic Committee convened an expert group to review the scientific evidence for the relationship of load (defined broadly to include rapid changes in training and competition load, competition calendar congestion, psychological load and travel) and health outcomes in sport. We summarise the results linking load to risk of injury in athletes, and provide athletes, coaches and support staff with practical guidelines to manage load in sport. This consensus statement includes guidelines for (1) prescription of training and competition load, as well as for (2) monitoring of training, competition and psychological load, athlete well-being and injury. In the process, we identified research priorities.”

Article #4

CBC Sports, 18 April, 2019, “Load management 101: How the Raptors have treated Kawhi Leonard

Article #5

May 25, 2019 TheStar, “Raptors reveal secrets to managing the playoff load

“Nurse, Raptors director of sports science Alex McKechnie and head athletic trainer Scott McCullough and his staff are chiefly responsible for striking that delicate balance of full rest, treatment, film work and on-court preparation that’s needed at this time of year.

The plan has been in place all year: the games off for Leonard, the many days of no full practices for anybody to keep bodies and minds fresh, the other short work days with minimal practice time and long film sessions.

“Coach has done a great job this year letting us kind of figure out what we need to get done,” Lowry said earlier in the series. “Get shots up if you need to get shots up, get rest, treatment, be a professional, be a pro.””

P.S. BTW, no wonder the phrase Load Management sounds familiar to me because Load Management is also the same phrase the describe “the process of balancing the supply of electricity on the network with the electrical load by adjusting or controlling the load rather than the power station output.

P.P.S. Bonus video 2 has some fascinating insights: The Secret Behind Kawhi Leonard’s Uncle Dennis

(audio) VANCOUVER 1040, Jun 6, 2019 – McKechnie: Kawhi Leonard is without question one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around

Toronto Raptors assistant coach and director of sports science Dr. Alex McKechnie has nothing but high praise for how Kawhi Leonard conducts himself on and off the court. Dr. McKechnie also said that despite being in NBA Finals in the past as a member of the LA Lakers staff, this one is a little more special because it’s a Canadian team that’s in the finals.

May 12, 2019 USA Today, “Kawhi Leonard’s bouncing buzzer-beater in Raptors’ Game 7 win had everyone in absolute awe” (Sweet viral photo by RICK MADONIK & G7 buzzer-beater 16s clip) Have a watch Philadelphia Sixers vs Toronto Raptors – Game 7 – Full Game Highlights | 2019 NBA Playoffs

Milwaukee Bucks vs Toronto Raptors – Game 3 – Full Game Highlights | 2019 NBA Playoffs

Milwaukee Bucks vs Toronto Raptors – Game 4 – Full Game Highlights | 2019 NBA Playoffs

June 13, 2019 Championship game, Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors – Game 6 – Full Game Highlights | 2019 NBA Finals

June 13, 2019 Final Seconds of 2019 NBA Finals Game 6 | Toronto Celebration | Raptors vs Warriors

June 10, 2019, ESPN, (this adds mostly colour and context) “Why Kawhi Leonard’s ‘load management’ won’t change the NBA all that much | The Jump

P.P.P.S. With the hindsight of an NBA Championship ring, it may be easier to see how overly harsh words in this March 20, 2019 Toronto Sun “Raptors’ Leonard load management nights have not occurred without progress” article seemed.

Now in Toronto, Leonard has been handled with proverbial kid gloves playing 51 of the 71 games to date. Whether that pays off for the Raptors down the road, either with a nice long playoff run or, hold your breath here, Leonard re-upping with the team this summer, only time will tell.

But even on those nights when Leonard does not play, the Raptors have found opportunities, opportunities that could come in very handy come playoff time.

One of those opportunities was the chance to get a good look at Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet on the floor together for extended periods.

When Leonard sits, invariably head coach Nick Nurse jumps at the opportunity to start the two alongside one another.

Nurse doesn’t need any analytics deep dive to tell him what his eyes can already see: Lowry and VanVleet together produce winning basketball.”

***

Brief bio of Alex McKechnie, from the NBA press release of his hiring by Raptors in 2011,

McKechnie, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, came to Canada in 1974 to be the head physiotherapist to the Varsity Athletic Program at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. During his time at Simon Fraser, McKechnie also served as the team physiotherapist for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League (1974-82) and team physiotherapist for the 1976 Canadian Olympic Soccer Team.

McKechnie left Simon Fraser in 1977 to open his own private practice specializing in Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Three years later, he began working on a consultant basis with the Vancouver Canucks (1980-2000).

In 2001, after two years of work and research, McKechnie was issued a United States patent on the Torsion Board which he subsequently licensed with Reebok to produce the Reebok Core Board, a device widely used in the NBA, NFL, NHL and gyms in North America. He also developed the Core X system which has been widely adopted in the NBA, NFL, NHL, Premier League and European soccer.”

==============================EXTRA==============================

P.P.P.P.S. Sorry, this one has nothing to do with Load Management but I LOVE it so here you have it via BarDown, “Kawhi reacts to fans chanting “One More Year” at him, but Lowry’s reaction was better

More Update: LOVE this series of cooking shows by Serge Ibaka!

Mar 29, 2019 “Testing Jeremy Lin’s sense of smell | How Hungry Are You?

April 11, 2019, “The real Kawhi Leonard | How Hungry Are You?

June 17, Raptors Championship Parade – CBC News Special

Extra: For the record, Kawhi Leonard is a client of Impact Sports Management, a sports agency founded by Mitchell Frankel sports agent. Here is an excerpt from a Forbes article,

“”We weren’t avidly trying to find something to invest in, but a mutual friend introduced us to Mitch [Frankel],” says Joseph Sutton. “He’s an honest guy in a business that’s one of the most sketchiest in the world.”

Frankel founded Impact Sports in 1987 and has been certified as an agent with the NFL Players Association and National Basketball Players Association since 1984. He has negotiated over $3 billion in player contracts during his career.

“We met Mitch roughly a year ago and raised money from a bunch of strategic partners in fashion, retail, wholesale and hospitality so we can add value to the players,” explains Joseph Sutton, who advised that one investor is the Gindi family, whom own the Versace Mansion in Miami. “Our real pitch to the players now is, with collective bargaining agreement really dictating what you get paid, what can an agent do for you off the field or off the court? We are providing fashion — brands for the players. Access to real estate investments.”

Creating passive income for players through providing clients with real estate investment opportunities is the real value added proposition of Impact Sports’ new make-up, according to Joseph Sutton. He and his father are pushing their connections in the space as a way to persuade athletes to pick them over the competition.

“Anyone can negotiate [Kawhi] Leonard’s $100 million deal,” says Joseph Sutton. “So what do you bring to the table as my agent these days? Marketing, branding, real estate, other investments, maybe good access to good trainers, but everyone has that kind of access.”

Joseph Sutton adds that his father owns three billboards in Times Square, and says it can create “a little pop” in recruiting athletes to the firm by promising certain times of unique promotion.

The Impact Sports team has seven clients headed to Indianapolis to compete at the NFL Scouting Combine.”

(2018 BEFORE) Kawhi Leonard laughs at Media Day and says he is a fun guy (timecode 21s)

(2019 AFTER) Two time NBA Champ MVP Kawhi Leonard’s LAST LAUGH

Fred VanVleet dropped an all-timer of a quote about Toronto fans (via news)

View this post on Instagram

Toronto’s gotta keep this energy all summer 2019 😂

A post shared by TSN (@tsn_official) on

====================Oldies But Goodies====================

Here is the 2014 The Kawhi Leonard Obama WH moment.

2014 The Kawhi Leonard Obama WH moment

The 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs Visit the White House (timecode 10m48s)

June 25, 2019 update: Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri season-ending press conference | FULL (Global News has better audio from reporters’ questions than CBC)

20190708 update: NBA on ESPN, “Nick Nurse on Kawhi joining Clippers: ‘You can’t blame a guy for wanting to go home’ | NBA on ESPN

20190923 Update: CBC News, (with many video clips) Raptors’ Masai Ujiri on winning, losing Kawhi Leonard, ‘the shove,’ and his own future with the team

20190927 Update: CBC National, (part 1 of 2) Raptors president Masai Ujiri on winning, Kawhi and his future with the team

(part 2 of 2) (part 2 of 2) Masai Ujiri’s basketball camp brings NBA dreams to Africa

xxx

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