Nov 7, 2019 - Sports

The NBA's "load management" issue

LA Clippers player Kawhi Leonard speaking with management

Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the second time in eight games, Kawhi Leonard missed the front end of a Clippers back-to-back, nixing what was supposed to be a battle between the reigning MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and the reigning NBA Finals MVP (Leonard).

The state of play: In his absence, Antetokounmpo (38-16-9) became the sixth player in NBA history with three straight 30-15-5 games, and the Bucks won 129-124.

  • It was entertaining, but it wasn't what fans thought they were getting when they saw Bucks-Clippers on the schedule. And ESPN, which broadcast the game nationally, probably wasn't thrilled.

The backdrop: This is part of Leonard's "load management" plan, which he also used with the Raptors last year. He missed 22 games during the regular season and credited that rest with helping him play 39 minutes a night in the playoffs en route to a championship.

  • The NBA, which can fine teams for sitting healthy players for nationally televised games, approved of Leonard's rest, saying it was "comfortable with the team medical staff's determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games."

Why it matters: This is the second straight week that Leonard sat out of ESPN's Wednesday night showcase, elevating the load management debate to the national stage and reflecting poorly on the league's product.

  • One potential solution would be to ensure that no nationally televised games involve back-to-backs, although that would just be masking a problem. At that point, why not just shorten the season and/or eliminate all back-to-backs?

What they're saying: "I believe the league has a long-term problem," said ESPN's Doris Burke. "Kawhi not playing, to me, is ridiculous at this point."

  • "The Clippers obviously have a responsibility to Kawhi and to winning and to long-term, but the league is and should be concerned that their best players are not playing on nights when they're on national television."

The bottom line: Load management flat-out stinks for fans, but unfortunately, it isn't a problem with a clear fix, because the overarching issue is the relative unimportance of the regular season.

Go deeper