NBA HQ: Kawhi Leonard out not for rest vs. Bucks, not healthy enough to play back-to-backs

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Welcome to the details of “load management” — a world of medical decisions based on prevention, combined with squishy semantics.

Kawhi Leonard will not play for the Clippers Wednesday night in a nationally televised game against the Bucks but will suit up Thursday night — in another nationally televised game — against the Trail Blazers.

The official reason for this: “Load management, knee.”

While NBA fans (and media) have come to consider the term “load management” as something tied to rest, in this case, I was told by an official from the league office that there is a determination Leonard’s knee meets the medical criteria for him to sit out back-to-back games. That determination first comes from the Clippers — who certainly have Leonard on a load management plan to keep him healthy for the playoffs, as the Raptors did a season ago — but is confirmed by the league.

If Leonard were considered healthy he would not be allowed to rest during a nationally televised game, the source said.

Later, league spokesman Mike Bass of ESPN gave Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN an official statement on this.

“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, is comfortable with team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”

If this all feels a bit nebulous and an argument over semantics welcome to the club.

Even this early in the season, if a team wants to rest any player there likely is enough of an injury in some form to medically justify him sitting out. Professional athletes are always playing through something, so it’s not hard to get to a medical decision requiring a night off, and teams take advantage of it. Those teams (the Clippers in this case) are not necessarily transparent about what is happening.

In Leonard’s case, there is the quadricep tendon issue in one leg (which started in and led to his exit from San Antonio), which during the playoffs last season had him compensating and causing pain in his other knee. The concern by the Clippers is legitimate, even if what is happening Wednesday night is realistically more preventative.

Also, the Clipper watched Leonard play 60 games last season then be the Finals MVP and lead the Raptors to a ring. They know exactly what they are doing and why, and they will come up for reasons to meet the league’s criteria.