Kawhi Leonard

Latest On NBA’s Load Management Dilemma

The NBA sent a memo to all 30 organizations this week instructing teams not to use the phrase “load management” to describe an injury, as Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today details in a series of tweets. According to the NBA’s memo, “load management” is a permissible description of a player’s absence only if he’s missing a game due to rest under the league’s resting policy.

The Hawks, who had been listing Chandler Parsons as out due to “load management” during the first few weeks of the season, adjusted their approach on Tuesday, according to Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal Constitution (Twitter link). Parsons’ new designation was “injury management (bilateral knees).” We can probably expect the Clippers to make a similar change to Kawhi Leonard‘s injury-report description the next time he sits.

While the NBA’s latest request may seem arbitrary or semantic, it reflects what a delicate subject load management has become for the league. It’s one of the “most debated, least understood” issues in basketball today, according to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and Kevin Arnovitz, who go into detail on the science and the goals behind load management programs.

“It is rare to find a sports scientist or performance specialist who believes that the NBA season doesn’t require some attention to load management to assure that a player has a chance to be at peak performance in the postseason,” Pelton and Arnovitz write. However, the ESPN duo acknowledges that while teams have more data points available to them than ever, interpreting that data “is still an art” rather than a hard science.

As load management continues to be a popular topic of discussion in the basketball world, here are a few more items related to the phenomenon:

  • Ethan Strauss of The Athletic surveyed executives, coaches, and players around the NBA in an attempt to determine the best fixes for the load management problem and received a variety of responses. Reducing the amount of games in a season or stretching the season to create fewer back-to-back sets was the most popular answer in Strauss’ survey. One agent also suggested teams should make an effort to rest players during non-national TV games and make their plans clear as soon as they know them.
  • WarnerMedia chairman Jeff Zucker said this week that he’d like to see the NBA be more proactive in addressing “load management” games that coincide with national TV broadcasts. (Twitter links via Ben Fischer of SportsBusiness Journal). I think the league has some influence over teams and i would like them to exert that influence,” Zucker said. TNT falls under the WarnerMedia umbrella, so Zucker obviously has a vested interest in stars suiting up for marquee games.
  • Mavericks owner Mark Cuban came out strongly in favor of load management this week, calling it “the best thing to ever happen to the league,” as Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe tweets. While fans may be frustrated to see star players sitting in regular season games, Cuban argues that it increases the chances of keeping those stars healthy for the most important games in the spring. “You actually get more of your stars [in the playoffs],” Cuban said, per ESPN. “You get shorter rotations of more of the guys playing in the playoffs, which is what you want to see anyway, right?”
  • Lakers star LeBron James believes that young players could probably benefit from “load management” – or at least more favorable scheduling – at the AAU level, as he tells Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. “A lot of these [AAU] tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man,” James said. “I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

Western Notes: Collins, Davis, Lillard, West

Zach Collins hasn’t given up on playing this season, Casey Holdahl of the team’s website tweets “For sure, it’s very realistic,” Collins told Holdahl. However, the Trail Blazers big man faces a long rehab after undergoing shoulder surgery last week. He’s expected to miss at least four months, which leaves only about a month before the end of the regular season in a best-case scenario.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Anthony Davis is playing through right shoulder pain, an injury he suffered on a missed dunk attempt two weeks ago, Dave McMenamin of ESPN relays. “There’s really never a play I don’t feel it,” Davis said. He hasn’t missed any games due to the injury and that will continue as long as he doesn’t aggravate it, according to Mark Medina of USA Today. “If he can be out there, he’s going to be out there,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s going to play through pain. We just got to make sure that it’s being done intelligently.”
  • Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is content to stay the course with the Trail Blazers rather than joining forces with superstars in other organizations, as he explained to Medina in a separate story. Lillard signed a four-year, $196MM extension during the summer. “I just feel like there’s always a reward at the end. When you do things the right way and you do the work, you’re going to get the results,” Lillard said. “I really believe that. We’ve gotten the results. Even after failures, we come back and answer to it. We’re staying the course. That’s worth it to me.”
  • Clippers adviser Jerry West rubber-stamped the Paul George blockbuster with the Thunder and explained why to Sam Amick of The Athletic. The Clippers gave up five first-rounders, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. “Everybody talks about all the draft picks we gave away. Well, we did give a lot of draft picks away. But two of them were not ours – period, OK?” West said. Giving up the young point guard was the hard part but worth it in West’s mind. “I think Shai is going to be an All-Star player in this league for a long time, and he’ll keep getting better. But we have two finished products right in the prime of their careers (in Kawhi Leonard and George) – or just getting in the prime of their careers,” he said.

L.A. Notes: George, Leonard, Rondo, McGee

Paul George is almost ready to return to the court after going through his first five-on-five practice yesterday, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. Coach Doc Rivers told reporters that George’s debut with the Clippers could come tomorrow against the Raptors, although Wednesday against the Rockets or Thursday against the Pelicans remains more likely.

No matter when it happens, George, who was involved in one of the highest-profile trades of the offseason, is eager to stop rehabbing and start playing. He had surgery on both shoulders shortly after the Thunder were eliminated from last season’s playoffs and has been operating on a limited basis since training camp opened.

“I’m used to being in this rehab stage and knowing what it takes to get my body prepared,” George said, referring to a broken leg he suffered in 2014. “It’s a long process. But with me going through it and having a drastic injury in my leg, I know what to expect. I know what pressure to put on myself and what pressure not to put on myself.”

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • Monday’s game will mark Kawhi Leonard‘s first meeting with the Raptors since leading the team to the NBA title in June, notes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Leonard said he meets a lot of Canadians in Southern California and they thank him for bringing a championship to the country. “The guys, the journey,” Leonard responded when asked what he will remember from his season in Toronto. “Also the country. The city was amazing. And it’s just so much, you can keep going on and talking about it.”
  • Rajon Rondo is getting closer to his season debut for the Lakers, but it won’t come today against Toronto, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. The veteran guard, who is recovering from a calf injury, went through a full workout Saturday and will participate in another practice today to help build his endurance.
  • Lakers center JaVale McGee won’t complain about a reduced role as long as the team keeps winning, relays Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. McGee is playing 25% fewer minutes and taking half as many shots as he did last season, with much of his time going to Dwight Howard. “Being on Golden State set me on (a path), let me have a mindset to where I’m not worried about minutes,” McGee said. However, he added, “If we’re losing and this is happening, then it’s a different situation.”

Pacific Notes: Burks, Leonard, Howard, Giles

Alec Burks doesn’t regret joining the Warriors despite their injury woes, Anthony Slater of The Athletic reports. He originally committed to the Thunder in free agency, then shifted gears when their two stars were traded. Burks signed a one-year deal with Golden State.

“I committed here for other reasons besides playing with those great players. I like the culture. I like (Warriors head coach) Steve (Kerr),” he said. “I like (GM) Bob (Myers). That’s what sold me at first. And I like the people right here that’s playing, that’s healthy. We’ll eventually get those guys back. … I’m glad where I’m at. I’m proud I made a good decision.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard was blindsided by the league revealing the nature of his knee injury while fining the team $50K for making conflicting statements about his health, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN relays. According to the league statement, Leonard is dealing with a patella tendon issue in his left knee. “I mean it was shocking, but it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I’m not a guy that reads the media anyway. We’re going to manage it the best way we can to keep me healthy and that’s the most important thing, me being healthy moving forward.”
  • The way the Clippers handled the Leonard load management controversy may have been sloppy but it showed that the organization has his back, Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic opine. The Clippers are trying to follow the Raptors’ blueprint to success, which includes giving Leonard a number of nights off.
  • Dwight Howard has emerged a legitimate candidate for the Sixth Man award, Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype writes. Not only has Howard been a force with the Lakers’ second unit, he’s also blended surprisingly well with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, according to statistical measures, Kalbrosky adds. Howard, working on a non-guaranteed contract, is averaging 6.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG and 2.1 BPG in 21.7 MPG.
  • Kings center Harry Giles was medically cleared to play just prior to the team’s game against the Hawks on Friday, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee reports. Giles had been sidelined by left knee soreness. Giles, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season since the team declined its 2020/21 option on him, scored four points in eight minutes during his season debut.

Clippers Fined $50K For Conflicting Statements On Kawhi Leonard

The NBA has fined the Clippers for inconsistent statements, including those by head coach Doc Rivers, regarding forward Kawhi Leonard‘s health status, according to a league press release.

Leonard sat out for the second time this season on Wednesday against Milwaukee as part of the team’s load management strategy for the superstar forward. Los Angeles’ decision to sit Leonard for ESPN’s nationally-televised game against Milwaukee was questioned in many circles.

Rivers unwittingly fanned the flames by saying in his press conference on Wednesday that Leonard felt just fine.

“He feels great. But he feels great because of what we’ve been doing… We’re just going to continue to do it,” Rivers said. “There’s no concern here. But we want to make sure. I think Kawhi made a statement that he’s never felt better. It’s our job to make sure he stays that way.”

Leonard’s absence was listed as a knee issue. The league’s statement regarding the fine indicated the team’s decision to sit Leonard was “consistent with league rules,” adding, “The team has reasonably determined that Leonard is suffering from an ongoing injury to the patella tendon in his left knee and has been placed by the team at this time on an injury protocol for back-to-back games.”

Essentially, the league has signed off on allowing Leonard to sit out a game on back-to-backs as long as the team doesn’t give the impression that Leonard is 100 percent.

The Clippers play the Trail Blazers in another nationally-televised event, this one on TNT, on Thursday night. Leonard played only 60 regular-season games in his lone season with the Raptors due to load management, which helped to keep him fresh for the postseason.

L.A. Notes: Howard, Kuzma, George, Leonard

Over his last few NBA stops, Lakers center Dwight Howard earned a reputation for rubbing teammates the wrong way, in part because of his “poorly-timed playfulness” that led some people in league circles to believe he lacked professionalism, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. Since arriving in Los Angeles this summer though, Howard has been all business, with noticeable changes to his “dedication and demeanor.” As the veteran center tells Amick, that new approach has been deliberate.

“I’m the same person. I love to have fun, love to enjoy life. I just separate it,” Howard said. “There’s a time and a place for everything. I’m here for business. When I go home, that’s when I can be who I want to be. But right now, when I put on that jersey and when I come in this locker room, it’s about the Lakers. And that’s it.”

Howard, who made a strong early impression by studying game film with head coach Frank Vogel on the Lakers’ flight back from China last month, is also off to a strong start on the court. He has averaged 6.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 2.1 BPG in a part-time role through seven games, with a league-high .786 FG%.

Here’s more on Los Angeles’ two teams:

  • After being held to 19 and 16 minutes in his first two games this season, Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma had a more lenient minutes limit on Tuesday against the Bulls, writes Eric Woodyard of ESPN.com. Although Kuzma only ended up playing 21 minutes, Vogel is prepared to increase that figure going forward. “To me, it’s not so much what his limitations are,” Vogel said before Tuesday’s game. “It’s really about rhythm and timing and conditioning, for me, in terms of what his minutes end up being. But he’s allowed to play 26 now.”
  • Paul George is scheduled to go through his first full-contact practice as a member of the Clippers on Saturday, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com. A Wednesday report indicated that the team is hoping to have George make his season debut next week, either on November 13 in Houston or November 14 in New Orleans.
  • Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic take a deep dive into the Clippers‘ load managing of Kawhi Leonard, exploring whether his nights off are precautionary or if he’s actually dealing with an injury. Sources tell The Athletic duo that there’s no definitive plan to have Leonard miss half of every single back-to-back set this season. The star forward’s rest schedule will be determined a few weeks at a time, and could be adjusted as the year goes on.

League OK With Kawhi Leonard’s Load Management

The Clippers are hearing complaints after deciding to rest Kawhi Leonard in a pair of nationally televised games, but the NBA has ruled that the load management plan falls within league guidelines, writes ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Leonard will sit out tonight’s home game against the Bucks, depriving viewers of a match-up between reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the MVP of last season’s NBA Finals. L.A. isn’t currently planning to use Leonard in back-to-back situations any time during the season, sources tell Wojnarowski, and the Clippers host Portland tomorrow night.

“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,” league spokesman Mike Bass said. “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.”

The Raptors employed the same strategy last year, using Leonard in just 60 regular season games. That preserved him for the playoffs, where he averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 games and led Toronto to its first NBA title.

Wojnarowski notes that Leonard hasn’t played on back-to-back nights since April of 2017 when he was still with the Spurs. A quad injury the following season limited him to nine games for the season and led to a falling out with the organization.

“He feels great because of what we’ve been doing,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told Malika Andrews of ESPN (Twitter link). “There’s no concern here. Our job is to make sure he stays that way.”

Clippers Targeting Next Week For Paul George’s Debut

Clippers forward Paul George has yet to make his debut for his new team as he continues to recovery from shoulder surgery. However, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic, it sounds like that long-awaited debut may happen sometime next week.

Sources tell Amick that the Clippers are eyeing their back-to-back set of road games on November 13 (in Houston) and November 14 (in New Orleans) for George’s return. The hope is that the six-time All-Star will play in one of those games, but not both.

As Amick notes, there’s a chance that George will be able to return sooner – possibly Monday in Toronto – or that his debut will be postponed a few days, perhaps to November 16 vs. Atlanta. But that back-to-back set on November 13-14 is considered the most likely time for his Clippers debut.

Even if George makes it back for one of those games against the Rockets or Pelicans, it’s unclear if we’ll see the Clippers’ full arsenal on display, since Kawhi Leonard has only been playing one half of the club’s back-to-backs so far. Leonard will sit out tonight vs. Milwaukee before playing on Thursday against Portland, for instance.

If the Clippers decide to load-manage George in their upcoming back-to-back sets while he works his way back to 100%, it will be interesting to see whether the team rests both its stars at the same time or staggers their nights off.

Kawhi Leonard Won’t Play On Wednesday

The Clippers will hold Kawhi Leonard out of Wednesday’s game vs. the Jazz, according to head coach Doc Rivers, who told reporters today that the star forward will be back in L.A.’s lineup on Thursday vs. San Antonio (Twitter link via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com).

This is the first time in Leonard’s brief tenure as a Clipper that he will miss a game for load-management purposes, though it likely won’t be the last. The reigning Finals MVP only appeared in 60 games last season as the Raptors held him out of one end of back-to-backs and a few other contests.

Rivers said in September that he didn’t anticipate Leonard being on as strict a load-management plan for the 2019/20 season. However, it was clear he didn’t expect Kawhi to play in all 82 games.

This is the Clippers’ first back-to-back set of the year, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he also misses a game during the team’s next back-to-back — Rivers said today that the club will evaluate that on a “case-by-case” basis (Twitter link via MacMahon).

The Clips are scheduled to host the Bucks next Wednesday, followed by the Trail Blazers on Thursday. They have another back-to-back on tap for November 13 and 14 in Houston and New Orleans. Paul George may have returned to action by that time.

Leonard’s official listing for tonight’s game is “out – load management, knee,” per Jovan Buha of The Athletic (Twitter link). As MacMahon notes (via Twitter), the NBA is requiring a specific body part to be listed this season, rather than just “load management.” The former Raptor reportedly battled a sore left knee during the team’s championship run in the spring, so the Clippers presumably want to limit the risk of that issue flaring up again.

Lakers Notes: Opening Night, LeBron, Kawhi, Jones

Kyle Kuzma is not playing for the Lakers tonight against the Clippers as he recovers from a stress reaction in his left foot. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, it’s not clear how long Kuzma will remain sidelined.

“He’s on no-contact, half-court now,” coach Frank Vogel said of Kuzma. “I’m sure we’ll build up to no-contact, full-court with sprinting or potentially half-court with contact. I’m not sure which direction they’re going to take it next, but there will be a progression this week building him up.”

Vogel added that Kuzma has been “impatient” with his injury but is “on board with the plan” that the team has to get him back at full strength.

Here’s more from Los Angeles:

  • LeBron James could envision a world where Kawhi Leonard was also on the Lakers, but he isn’t sure why the reigning Finals MVP picked the Clippers in free agency, as McMenamin relays in a separate piece. “Man, how the hell can I answer that? I don’t [expletive] know,” James said jocularly when asked what convinced Leonard to sign elsewhere. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Ask Kawhi.”
  • Anthony Davis said he had a role in attempting to recruit Leonard. “It was fun just to go through it, for me, with a player like Kawhi, trying to recruit him to come here. It was fun,” Davis said (via McMenamin in the same article). “We had one conversation, and I think he came out with a statement, or his uncle or something … somebody said he don’t really like all the recruitment and all that stuff, so I felt like I overstepped my boundaries…But it was a fun process. I would do it all over.”
  • The South Bay Lakers have traded the G League rights of Jemerrio Jones to the Wisconsin Herd (Bucks‘ affiliate), per a team press release. The Lakers’ affiliate will receive the No. 8 overall pick in the upcoming G League draft and the Herd’s 2020 first-rounder for Jones, who was recently waived by the Wizards and signed by Bucks on an Exhibit 10 deal.