The Los Angeles Clippers are managing Kawhi Leonard extremely carefully, often to the detriment of television viewers. The Clippers, so far, have decided not to let Leonard play in both legs of back-to-backs. In their first back-to-back of the season, they chose to sit him out on a nationally televised game against the Utah Jazz rather than a locally televised battle with the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers have a similar back-to-back setup Wednesday and Thursday. Tonight, they will play the Milwaukee Bucks on national TV, while Thursday, they will play the Portland Trail Blazers on the local airwaves. Leonard will sit out tonight's game and play tomorrow.
A number of fans living outside of southern California were naturally upset by this decision, as they have only limited opportunities to see Leonard play, yet the Clippers have continuously deprived them of those chances. Load management has been a hot-button topic for the league as a whole for the past several years. The league has to satisfy its broadcasting partners, and has made a point of asking teams not to rest star players for nationally televised games. Still, in a statement released through Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the league supported the Clippers' decision to rest Leonard during back-to-backs.
"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. 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 statement does not specifically mention Leonard missing games on national television, but does support the Clippers' decision to rest him in general. Still, Leonard is listed as out due to load management Wednesday, though his knee is also mentioned on the team's injury report. Leonard is healthy enough to play, and will play only a night later, but will sit in a highly-anticipated rematch against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. The decision was met with obvious backlash from fans and media alike.
Eventually, the league could set hard and fast rules preventing teams from making these sorts of decisions for nationally televised games. After all, one missed game is only one missed game, and as badly as some teams might want to game the system in order to try to maximize their chances of weathering the storm without their best players, the NBA is ultimately a business and depriving fans of opportunities to see superstars is financially harmful. For now, the league is supporting the Clippers. Eventually, though, the league will need to find a solution to this problem that satisfies its fans and its business partners.