On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Clippers will host the Milwaukee Bucks.
It will be one of two regular season games between the pair of NBA title hopefuls and features one of the game’s most anticipated one-on-one matchups between reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Except it won’t.
The Clippers have chosen to deprive fans of that matchup and will sit Leonard because of — you guessed it — load management. The team has already ruled him out.
With that, a once-exciting nationally televised game on ESPN has fizzled before tipoff.
Leonard slated for 2nd DNP in 8 games
Wednesday will mark the second time this season a healthy Leonard will sit through eight games.
Much has been opined about NBA teams’ approach to load management, with Leonard at the center of it. Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio because he wasn’t happy with how the team and its medical staff handled a lingering quad injury.
Did load management work in Toronto?
Leonard played in just 60 regular season games with the Toronto Raptors last season, but appeared to justify the frequent load-management DNPs with his historic playoff run that led the franchise to its first NBA championship.
Would he have been the same player in the playoffs had he played more regular season games? Who knows? It appears that NBA fans likely never will know the impact of a full NBA slate for Leonard, as frequent load management is now the norm.
Why the Bucks game?
Why did Clippers coach Doc Rivers choose the high-profile front end of the back-to-back to sit Leonard instead of Thursday’s back end? The Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers a day later in another nationally televised matchup on TNT.
It can be presumed that Rivers prioritized playing Leonard in a conference game over a non-conference matchup. Given the choice of sitting him for a pair of games, it’s a reasonable decision by Rivers from a competitive standpoint.
Disservice to NBA fans
But the thing is that Rivers and the Clippers don’t face that choice. It’s actually possible for Leonard to play back-to-back sets. And sitting him for one of the two matchups this year against the Bucks is an affront to fans who were rightfully looking forward to the game.
Backlash against the benching prompted the NBA to defend the decision on Wednesday, declaring that “Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league's resting policy.”
For a league that’s spent a disastrous offseason forcing fans to weigh their collective social conscience against the enjoyment of watching basketball, giving those same fans a completely avoidable reason to be upset with the on-court product isn’t wise.
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