On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Clippers were set up to play the Milwaukee Bucks. A rematch of Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, a chance to relive the Eastern Conference Finals mega matchup.
Just one problem, Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t be suiting up. Reason? Load management. A common occurrence for Leonard, who is nursing a knee injury that won’t allow him to play back-to-back’s.
The discourse on the Clippers decision was great. Some didn’t understand why the Clippers decided to sit Kawhi on this night rather than Thursday’s matchup against the Portland Trailblazers. Others questioned the whole premise of load management in general (and to them I say, do your research).
All of this talk raised multiple thoughts for me. For one, it showed how sides with very different ulterior motives can agree on things. ESPN led the charge with beloved ESPN analyst Doris Burke blasting Kawhi, followed by others on the program who expressed frustration with the decision. Would they be making the same arguments if Kawhi missed the TNT game rather than the game their channel is programmed to cover? I have my doubts.
People have also seemed to have forgotten that even with Toronto load managing Kawhi to a title, Kawhi spent most of that finals unhealthy and limping around on the court. The issue with his quad is something he’ll have to manage his entire career which makes it even more imperative that when other injuries to his legs occur, they don’t put too much on him.
Furthermore, if anyone wants to maximize Kawhi Leonard it would be the Los Angeles Clippers. They gave up a majority of their farm system to bring him to their team and his 2+1 deal means that they’re “on the clock” and have to show Leonard that they’re a team that will be able to take care of him. If it was in their plans to maximize the extended break in their schedule by resting him on Wednesday than allow them to do what is best.
Finally, this was a Clippers home game. That means the fans that were in attendance still have multiple chances to see Kawhi Leonard play. This wasn’t a situation of a player taking the way an opportunity from a fan in Milwaukee who only had one chance to see the player live.
None of this is to diminish the problems with Load Management. The league has a viewership problem, not having one of its brightest stars in a marquee matchup on national TV isn’t great. The league issued a statement essentially saying that they have been working with the Clippers on this matter and that they’re in compliance with rules put in place to avoid players from load managing during nationally televised games.
If that’s the case, the simple fix here would be to contract with the TV networks and work in flex schedules that allow networks to pivot to other games in event of such situations. For example, if teams were required to give at least a week in advance notice of planned load management, it would be ample time for ESPN to flex in another game. In this case, they could have easily had just shifted coverage to the Philadelphia Sixers vs. Utah Jazz.
Premising the idea of load management on “players resting” is harmful to the league and sends the wrong message to teams and players who are doing their best to maximize themselves. This issue is one that requires the league, teams, and networks to be a little more transparent with each other in order for them to maximize their viewership interest when they have prime time spots.