As basketball fans in Toronto and across Canada await Kawhi Leonard’s decision on his NBA future, one thing to consider is just how the Toronto Raptors handled the NBA star.
Prior to his star turn in the NBA playoffs, the Raptors had Leonard sit out several games during the regular season, an approach referred to as “load management.”
Coming off a serious quadriceps injury that sidelined Leonard for all but nine games last season with San Antonio, the Raptors were cautious with their new star. He played 60 of 82 games in the regular season and never played both games on back-to-back nights.
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While the Raptors didn’t invent the term “load management,” they did help popularize it, and no one had more to do with the team’s approach than Raptors’ assistant coach and director of sport science, Alex McKechnie.
“The perception of load management is people just think somebody’s resting and it’s actually not the case,” McKechnie said. “It’s about sustaining and maintaining set load patterns.
“Certain types of injuries respond to load, certain injuries respond to overload… so it’s about understanding the pathology, understanding the breakdown of it. And so the load management in this case is really about about maintaining and sustaining a consistency of load that allowed him to play at a high level moving throughout the course of the year.
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The approach appeared to have worked. Leonard played his best basketball of the season when it mattered most, and was named NBA Finals MVP for the second time.
The Scottish-born physiotherapist started his career at Simon Fraser University in 1974 and worked with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Vancouver Canucks before becoming well known to NBA teams and players.
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He then worked with Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal, which put him on the map in NBA circles. He ended up winning five championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers.
McKechnie is effusive in his praise for Leonard, saying he is “one of the finest young men I’ve been around.”
“He’s actually a fun guy,” McKechnie said. “A very nice guy, wonderful, incredibly courteous, polite, punctual — everything you expect from a professional.”
Throughout the season, Leonard praised McKechnie and his staff for how they handled his health throughout the season.
“Me missing games isn’t just to keep me fresh,” he told reporters after a game in March. “It’s obviously making sure I don’t reinjure something that I was out for last year. (Raptors medical staff) have been doing a good job of reading images and making sure that I’m improving instead of declining on the health side.”
That kind of mutual admiration has some hopeful that McKechnie’s approach to handling the team’s most valuable asset could be a factor in having Leonard re-sign with the Raptors.
Like basketball fans around the country, McKechnie hopes Leonard will return to Toronto. He says, however, it’s not his place to convince the star to stay with the Raptors and he let his his work speaks for itself.
“My role is to make sure that we’ll supply the best possible health and performance care that we possibly can.”
— With files from Jay Janower and The Canadian Press