“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,” spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN earlier Wednesday. “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 Clippers and Leonard are working on a long-range plan to keep him healthy, and that will continue to include his sitting out portions of back-to-backs, as well as other limitations during the season.
Entering the preseason, Leonard said he felt much better than he did going into the previous season and that his load management would be different than it was in Toronto. Coach Doc Rivers insisted there is no reason to be concerned about Leonard’s health.
“He feels great,” Rivers said before the Clippers played the Bucks. “But he feels great because of what we’ve been doing. And we are just going to continue to do it. There’s no concern here. But we want to make sure.
“I think Kawhi made the statement he’s never felt better [entering camp]. It’s our job to make sure he stays that way. And that’s important. He played a lot of minutes in the playoffs last year. And it’s not a health thing. Really it is, in some ways, we want him to just keep feeling better and getting better.”
Rivers said there is no plan at the moment for when and why Leonard doesn’t play, particularly when it comes to back-to-backs.
“We don’t really, like, choose,” Rivers said of which game Leonard will sit out. “It’s more like we did it in the first game back-to-back the other day. It’s more rest for this one so he can heal. The healing process for each player is different.”
Leonard and the Clippers could have chosen the non-national TV game of last week’s back-to-back for the star’s absence, but they weren’t required to do so under the league’s resting policy. Because Leonard is deemed to be hurt, resting policy rules don’t apply.
Leonard hasn’t played a back-to-back since early April 2017 for San Antonio. The Clippers and Leonard have no plans in the near future for him to return to back-to-back participation in the regular season, sources told ESPN.
Leonard did not play in the Clippers’ 110-96 loss to Utah on Oct. 30, which was televised nationally on ESPN. The Clippers-Bucks game was aired on ESPN, and Thursday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers will be on TNT.
Leonard has averaged 29.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals in six games this season.
Rivers said he feels sympathy for fans who buy tickets hoping to see Leonard play on nights he does not. But the coach said there is no way to give fans advance notice.
“They get to see me,” he said jokingly. “… Listen, I’m a fan of basketball as well. Not just a coach. So I feel for that. I understand that. We obviously have to do what’s right by our players. We have to. It’s our duty. And for a fan, it’s really a tough one, and there’s no correct answer that I am going to give you that will satisfy that person you are talking about.”
Information from ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk was used in this report.