The Los Angeles Clippers have been fined for resting Kawhi Leonard on the frontend of a back-to-back. Load management is now receiving more attention than it ever did for the Toronto Raptors.
The world knows how bold Masai Ujiri is willing to be when he feels his team needs a kick in the you know where. Ujiri traded DeMar DeRozan *not a superstar* for Kawhi Leonard *The super’est of stars*. Shout out Danny Green and Jakob Poetl, but that particular summer blockbuster was all about Leonard and DeRozan changing teams, bringing the former Spur to the Toronto Raptors.
A bonafide superstar, albeit one with a bummed leg, Leonard came to Toronto, appearing content with a situation he never would’ve believed was possible just a few seasons ago.
Toronto was hungry for a title and needed to defeat Giannis Antetokounmpo, not LeBron James, to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Oddly enough, James left the Cavaliers to sign with the Lakers, Leonard’s preferred destination for much of the holdout that eventually brought No. 2 to the Six.
According to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, the relationship got off to a “rocky” start.
Note: I hope the above tweet was referenced in said league source’s performance review.
When all was said and done, the Raptors, led by Leonard, won it all. Kawhi was Kawhi, all season long, largely because of how Toronto handled his long-term health concerns. It could not have been more perfectly handled; from the team to the media, to the fans, all parties involved resisted the urge to get dragged into the habit of daily discussions around “load management”.
The Raptors medical staff, led by Alex McKechnie, collaborated with Leonard throughout the year and had very few problems in what turned into a 106-game season. Kawhi Leonard played in 84 of those contests, two more appearances than a full regular season workload.
Assuming the best-case scenario, one that sees Leonard and the Clippers make and win an NBA championship, it’s probable to expect Leonard to play between 80-90 games, including playoffs — if the new standard for superstar players involves winning a title and getting 20+ games off throughout what’s, undeniably, become a long and demanding season, so what?
Truth is, the real problems are back-to-backs, and four games in five nights, though, the latter test has been discontinued by the league, I believe. Load management is an injury prevention mechanism that is here to stay, for now. Few things in this world deserve the “here4ever” hashtag, cockroaches, unfortunately, come to mind…but jokes aside, the American media needs to take a page out of Canada’s playbook and limit the discussion around the NBA’s newest loophole in injury and workload management.
Look, I don’t like it just as much as the next person, but committing to Kawhi Leonard’s wishes, as far as his health was concerned, resulted in the Toronto Raptors winning a freakin’ NBA title — the laugh, the shot, the dunk on Giannis, all capped off by an epic parade that saw Leonard mix in a callback to the laugh that won over an entire country, then he waved goodbye to Canada.
Anybody still bitter about losing Leonard, understand that the Raptors could not have done anything differently in a collective quest to court the new king of the NBA, Kawhi Leonard — Toronto checked all the boxes, medically, keeping Leonard content from that standpoint, allowing No. 2 stay healthy, and subsequently dominate. As was to be expected, Canada nailed the healthcare part of the Kawhi equation, but frigid winters and the need to be close to his family resulted in Kawhi returning to his home country, the United States of America.
American friends, please, take it from me, someone who began last season as a heavy critic of load management, the potential return of such a program is extensive. It’s worth it. If you’re someone who bought a ticket to a game only to see Leonard sit and now you’re angry about it, I promise you the feeling you get when that final buzzer goes and the Clippers are crowned champs will more than offset the yucky sensation that comes with missing out on seeing Leonard play in the regular season. When it matters most, he’ll be on the floor.