NBA fines Clippers $50K for Doc Rivers statement regarding Kawhi Leonard's load management

Jason Owens

The NBA has fined the Los Angeles Clippers $50,000 over language used regarding Kawhi Leonard’s health status when he sat Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks for load management.

The league announced the fine in a memo Thursday, attributing it to “statements, including by head coach Doc Rivers, that were inconsistent with Leonard's health status.”

Rivers: Leonard ‘feels great’

Rivers told reporters Wednesday that Leonard “feels great,” contradicting a league statement that supported the Clippers in their decision to sit an apparently healthy Leonard.

“He feels great,” Rivers said. “But he feels great because of what we’ve been doing. We’re just going to continue to do it. 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.”

Rivers’ statement arrived after NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski earlier Wednesday that the league supported the Clippers’ decision to sit Leonard in the high-profile matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The NBA has fined the Los Angeles Clippers $50,000 over language used regarding Kawhi Leonard’s health status. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)
The NBA has fined the Los Angeles Clippers $50,000 over language used regarding Kawhi Leonard’s health status. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

NBA: ‘Kawhi is not a healthy player’

"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,” Bass said. “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.”

The NBA reiterated the stance that Leonard wasn’t healthy in the memo announcing the fine.

“Following additional review of the LA Clippers not playing Kawhi Leonard in last night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA has confirmed that the team’s decision to sit Leonard for management of an injury was consistent with league rules. 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 injury protocol for back-to-back games.”

Rivers doesn’t have much to say in response

Rivers declined to delve into the fine other than to crack a joke when asked about it prior to Thursday’s Clippers-Trail Blazers game.

Intense ‘load management’ debate

The decision to sit Leonard for the game against the Bucks drew intense scrutiny. The matchup was one of two on the season between the pair of NBA Finals hopefuls and would have featured reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo facing off with Leonard, the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

Leonard played in the second half of the Clippers’ back-to-back set Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. Wednesday was the second time in eight games that Leonard sat for load management.

The news that Leonard was missing the high-profile matchup arrived long after tickets for the game had sold out and ESPN had scheduled the matchup for national broadcast.

Leonard sat 22 regular-season games last season with the Toronto Raptors before earning Finals MVP honors while leading the franchise to its first championship.

NBA levies fine for contradiction, not load management

Rather than fine the Clippers under a rule prohibiting teams from sitting healthy players, the NBA took a stance to side with the team’s decision.

It wasn’t until Rivers basically announced that Leonard was healthy that the league chose to levy a fine.

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