Critics of Kawhi Leonard’s load management strategy can’t ignore one important point

first_imgLeonard credits Toronto’s strategy for one of the most impressive individual playoff performances in recent NBA history (30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and a league-high 939 total playoff minutes). The Raptors took home the title, and teams took notice.”If we didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here right now for sure.”Kawhi Leonard tells @Rachel__Nichols that the Raptors’ load management plan for him helped in the long run.— ESPN (@espn) June 7, 2019MORE: When will Paul George make his Clippers debut?When Leonard became a Clipper this offseason, the team made it clear his health would be a top priority. And why not? If it worked for Toronto, why shouldn’t the Clippers follow the same path?But load management is a sensitive subject. When the Clippers announced Wednesday that Leonard would miss the front end of a back-to-back set, the debate once again took center stage.ESPN analyst Doris Burke got the fireworks started on the “Golic and Wingo” show ahead of the Clippers’ matchup with the Bucks. Los Angeles ruled Leonard out of the first game of the back-to-back, taking away the excitement of a Kawhi vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo showdown.”It is mind-boggling to me that Kawhi doesn’t want to play against the reigning MVP and he’d rather play against Portland [the next day],” Burke said. “I believe the league has a long-term problem. When it pinches them, I don’t know. But Kawhi not playing, to me, is ridiculous at this point. I don’t understand it. He is a great player. He is compelling to watch. If you’ve watched any of his games, he’s been absolutely brilliant in the fourth quarter and won them a ton of games. And the Clippers obviously have a responsibility to Kawhi and to winning and to long term.”But the league also, I believe, is and should be concerned that their best players are not playing on nights when they’re on national television. The NBA ratings took a hit last year. People tune in — we know this for a fact, guys — people tune in because they want to see the stars who are so compelling. There are few players who are this compelling at this stage in their careers.””Kawhi not playing, to me, is ridiculous at this point. … To me, the league has a problem.” @heydb addresses the impact of Kawhi and other stars missing nationally televised games. (via @GolicAndWingo)— ESPN (@espn) November 6, 2019Burke’s point of view isn’t out of bounds. The NBA depends on big names to generate ratings. It’s a league that leans on star power more than any other sport, particularly during a regular season that is often deemed as irrelevant.But the media and basketball fans can’t have their cake and eat it, too.Players are judged on one thing and one thing only — championships. Charles Barkley is regularly mocked on TNT by Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal because he retired without a title. James Harden is viewed as just another great statistical player incapable of carrying a team to a championship. Past or present, the rings conversation reigns supreme.For fans hoping to see a star in their city, the disappointment is understandable. NBA tickets aren’t cheap. Families pay an arm and a leg to watch players like Leonard just one time in a year. When organizations decide to rest their stars at the last second, it can be a major blow to paying fans.But what do they value more? An enjoyable regular season experience in November? Or witnessing the best of the best battle it out on the biggest stage and lifelong fandom finally paying off in May and June?What must be decided now is how the NBA views the new trend. And it seems that the league is just as conflicted as the rest of us.The NBA initially accepted the Clippers’ reasoning for why Leonard missed Wednesday’s game.NBA spokesman Mike Bass on Kawhi Leonard: “Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league’s resting policy, and, as such, is listed as managing a knee injury in the LA Clippers injury report. The league office, in consultation with the NBA’s director of sports medicine..”— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 6, 2019Bass continued: “…is comfortable with the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 6, 2019MORE: Doc Rivers rants about new coach’s challenge ruleThen one innocent statement altered the league’s stance on the situation.”[Leonard] feels great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But he feels great because of what we’ve been doing. We’re just going to continue to do it. There’s no concern here. But we want to make sure. I think Kawhi made a statement that he’s never felt better. It’s our job to make sure he stays that way. That’s important.”But he played a lot of minutes in the playoffs last year. So, it’s not a health thing really. It is in some ways. We want him to just keep feeling better and getting better.”So it’s not a health thing, but also, it is? Rivers’ comments forced the NBA to quickly change its tone with a $50,000 fine.Remember, NBA doctors evaluate the medical info provided by the Clippers. The league doesn’t take the team’s word that Clippers aren’t violating resting rules. Essentially, Rivers is trying to be supportive of Leonard in public — and it comes at cost of $50K for franchise.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 8, 2019″For me, I’m on [Rivers’] side, you know what I mean?” Leonard said when asked about the league fining the organization. “I’m a Clipper. He’s my coach. That’s just disappointing. It feels like they want players to play if they’re not ready.”Load management is a confusing idea for all. On one side, the NBA wants to be seen as a league that supports its players and doesn’t wander into dangerous territory by publicly doubting the legitimacy of an injury. On the other, allowing stars to sit is terrible for the fan experience and the NBA’s TV partners.Regardless of how the league handles the issue moving forward, load management is here to stay. As long as it’s all about the “Larry O-B” trophy, the NBA’s elite will continue to sit during the regular season and prepare for the playoffs. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich may have kicked off the load management era, but Kawhi Leonard is the poster boy.In his first and only season in Toronto, Leonard played in just 60 of the Raptors’ 82 regular season games. From a fan perspective, it was hard to stomach. There’s no arguing with the results, though. “I got to do what makes me healthy and is going to help the team be successful, and that’s me being able to play basketball games for us,” Leonard said.The fans won’t like it. They won’t be waving “load management” flags at their favorite arenas. But they might just enjoy the end result.And isn’t that the only thing that matters?last_img read more