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Clippers rested Kawhi Leonard again, but at what cost?

Milwaukee Bucks v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Kawhi Leonard sat in the Clippers’ Wednesday ESPN game against the Bucks, a potential NBA Finals preview. Per usual for highly anticipated games in which stars sit for rest purposes, there was much gnashing of teeth. This technically wasn’t a case of load management: Kawhi is apparently nursing a knee injury, and the Clippers communicated enough medical data with the NBA to get them to pre-clear LA to rest Kawhi on account of the knee without sanction.

It’s totally rational for the Clippers to selectively rest their best player, who has a history of serious leg problems, amid back-to-backs. The Raptors did this last season with this very player and won the championship! Isn’t that the goal?

It’s totally rational for fans to be upset when they pay high prices for tickets and the best players are in street clothes more by choice than by necessity. The new movement toward regularized rest for top players may be a factor in flat league attendance. League attendance and falling league TV ratings do eventually catch up with everyone as local and eventually national broadcast deals are negotiated and the total revenue from basketball operations goes into figuring future salary caps, which dictate future maximum contracts. It’s a slow domino chain, but it does exist. Fans really do have a say in this, eventually.

It’s totally rational for the league to be concerned about teams resting stars for those reasons. The league previously instituted rest rules around national TV games — that’s why the Clippers reached out beforehand with Wednesday’s affair. It is in the league’s interest to have its marquee players available for its marquee games. That means regulating load management to some degree, and it also means giving teams the freedom to do what’s necessary to improve the odds of those stars being healthy for the playoffs, which are the most marquee of games.

So what’s the solution? Short of shortening the regular season to eliminate back-to-backs, teams should probably focus on sitting stars for road games only. Most back-to-backs include at least road game. Pick that one. This situation happened to be a home back-to-back for the Clippers: Kawhi will play at home Thursday against the Blazers, also on national TV. The NBA did this to themselves, in a way, by giving the Clippers no good options with a home back-to-back on national TV both nights.

With road-only rest, the loss of a chance to see a visiting star is balanced by the increased odds of the home team winning — as a diehard fan, would you feel better after paying $200 for your family to watch Kawhi destroy your team, or for your team to beat the mighty Clippers? Probably the latter. Can the NBA push teams toward using load management only on the road? It’s unclear, but the league should try it. That might leave everyone more satisfied.

Until then, we should probably acknowledge everyone’s feelings and commit to dealing with the consequences of the anger, whenever it may be realized.


Knicks 102, Pistons 122
Wizards 106, Pacers 121
Bulls 113, Hawks 93
Kings 120, Raptors 124
Warriors 112, Rockets 129
Timberwolves 121, Grizzlies 137
Magic 106, Mavericks 107
Sixers 104, Jazz 106
Bucks 129, Clippers 124


All times ET. Games on League Pass unless otherwise noted.

Celtics at Hornets, 8 p.m., TNT
Thunder at Spurs, 8:30 p.m.
Heat at Suns, 9 p.m.
Blazers at Clippers, 10:30 p.m., TNT


A new episode of UNTITLED, this time investigating how Steve Nash finished his illustrious, victory-ridden career without a championship.

Mike Prada with a deep dive on why the Pelicans’ defense is so sad.

Zach Lowe on Stephen Curry’s TBD legacy.

The Pistons offense *hummed* on Wednesday: 37 assists on 44 made field goals.

Ricky O’Donnell explains the Warriors from a college basketball perspective.

Harry Lyles Jr. gives the world the guide to Alex Caruso, Cult Hero it so desperately needs.

137 points in regulation for the Grizzlies. What a world.

Kevin Pelton on the measurable value of roster continuity.

Trae Young highlight tracker!

LeBron James: not washed. Like what’s the opposite of washed? That’s LeBron.

Paul Flannery on friendship on the Appalachian Trail.

A college basketball name NBA fans should learn: Tyrese Maxey.

How Willie Cauley-Stein found new purpose.

And finally: there’s an amazing Japanese port of the 1992 SNES game NCAA Basketball called Super Dunkshot. It dispenses with college team names and slightly tweaks actual NBA team names. So you get the Houston Pockets, the New York Kicks and the Los Angeles Lasers. Just incredible. The Boston Celeries!

Be excellent to each other.