Kawhi's Night Off

Load Management.

Jim Rome
November 07, 2019 - 9:26 am
Los Angeles Clippers

USA Today


Milwaukee came to LA last night to take on the Clippers. And if you were expecting the battle of the league MVP vs the Finals MVP, you didn’t get it. Because Kawhi Leonard did not play due to load management. I’ll get to more of that in a second, but what you did get was Milwaukee winning 129-124 and Giannis completely going OFF for 38 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists. And the win! 

In other words, if you want to talk best player in the game right now, and you’re talking LeBron and Kawhi, you better make that a three man argument.

Because he just became the first player in league history with 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in the first eight games. And he did that without shooting particularly well so far this year. He’s making league history and his shot hasn’t quite been falling, either from deep or from the line.

That shows how dominant he is. And he did it again last night. How would you like him to impact the game? Would you like it on defense because he can lock the hell up?

Or how about with an old school jam?

Or his new weapon, the three ball?

He was four of seven from deep last night. That ties a career-high and if that becomes a thing, if Giannis draining threes is really part of his arsenal going forward: good luck with that: because that bleep isn’t even fair, It’s just not right .having a guy  that big, that smooth, that agile, who can take you off the dribble or stick a three in your eye.

And it wasn’t just The Freak Show. There was George Hill with a putback dunk.

And you got Eric Bledsoe flipping off his brain for a second and forgetting that this is the NBA and its not pickup rules.

My guy was handed the ball by the ref to inbound it and he just dribbled up the court, like this was a local run at LA Fitness not against the LA Clippers. Bledsoe had to be shocked when it wasn’t make it, take it and when guys weren’t calling their own fouls.

But really, last night wasn’t about what Giannis did on the court, it was about the fact that Kawhi wasn’t out there with him.

And the reason for that was load management and his knee.

And as soon as that started coming out earlier in the week, some people started freaking out. They started complaining that it was bad for basketball, that back in the day, there was no load management that guys didn’t sit out. They said it was bad for the fans and for national television.

And some of the people doing that complaining feel very strongly about it. Strongly about how wrong it is. And that it’s ruining the game.  Of course, those same people have to have a vested interest in making sure he does play. 

Just like The Clippers have a vested interest in making sure he’s healthy. And that he stays healthy. That’s their job and their responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong. It does suck for the fans who bought tickets hoping to see Giannis and Kawhi in person. That is a major drag: but the Clippers aren’t focused on winning games in early November, they’re built to win games in mid-June. And to do that, you need a fresh, healthy Kawhi Leonard.

This isn’t about Kawhi ducking Giannis. You think someone as competitive as Kawhi is ducking anyone? Hell. No.

And it’s not about Kawhi being tired and wanting his blanket. He’s not soft. He’s tough as hell. And he’s someone who’s dealing with a chronic condition in his quad.  

I get it. It’s frustrating. You want to see the best players going up against each other. But you know what’s worse than the best players not going up against each other? The best players missing an entire season, which is what Kawhi pretty much did two years ago because of his leg. 

If you’re a Clippers fan, would you rather see him in November or June? Because the Clippers would tell you it’s no coincidence that he played 60 regular season games last year and then played the best basketball of his career in the playoffs.

If you’re an NBA fan, what would be better for the game – Kawhi grinding through a chronic condition in his quad to play every game and every back to back so the tough guys from back in the day could respect him, only for the leg to blow up and shut him down in March? Would that be good? Would that be better for the game?

If he was done for the season after the All-Star break, would you be saying, that’s fine. He can’t play in the most important games, but at least we got to see him in a back-to-back in November!

And yes, I’m aware that he has said that he feels great. Excellent. LA’s goal is to make sure he still feels great in May and June.

But remember, part of the reason he feels great is that Kawhi didn’t play basketball over the summer. He sat out full-contact sessions in their Hawaii training camp.

As a league spokesman said: “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 the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”

And here’s the other thing: everyone knew how this was going to go down before the start of the season. Everyone knew there was going to be load management for him and for other players.

So the issue isn’t that there’s a surprise, the issue is about the communication. The issue is the schedule. The issue is the back to backs and in particular, the back to backs involving nationally televised games. The fact that he didn’t play last night wasn’t a surprise to anyone paying close attention, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone at all. It should’ve been communicated and over communicated, so that everyone knew what they were buying when they bought it.

Doc Rivers is responsible for winning basketball games. So is Kawhi. Yes, it’s entertainment, but the smart basketball move is to rest him and keep him healthy, even if that means pissing off the entertainment side.

Everyone knew that was going to be the case after last year. The Clippers saw Toronto’s blueprint for dealing with Kawhi’s health and they’re going to follow it. And everyone else should get used to it.  I’ve got no problem with it.  I understand it.  And I, for one, have been paying attention so this was no surprise at all to me. And it shouldn’t have been to anyone else