Advertisement
Sports

Column: Only one group has a legitimate gripe about Kawhi Leonard’s load management

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, center, sits on the bench during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, center, sits on the bench during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 7.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Alex McKechnie smiled as he stood near a couch in a swanky Las Vegas nightclub in July, shaking hands with NBA executives and coaches who were congratulating him on being part of a sixth NBA title.

The Toronto Raptors’ vice president of player health and performance is better known these days as the “lord of load management” after coining the phrase and devising a system to manage Kawhi Leonard’s quads tendon injury last year that led Leonard to sit out 22 regular-season games.

McKechnie worked for five title-winning Lakers teams while managing Shaquille O’Neal’s abdominal injuries and Kobe Bryant’s knee injuries. McKechnie’s goal is to give players the best possible chance to be healthy from the start of the season in October to the end of the playoffs in June. He knows he can’t control injuries but “I control what I can control, and it’s all about recovery and preparation for the next game.”

The Clippers are implementing a similar plan to the one McKechnie put in place for Leonard last season. It led to Toronto’s first championship.

Advertisement

Not everyone likes the plan.

Load management is the most hotly debated topic in the NBA, with everyone from players and coaches to television executives and fans weighing in on the issue. Everyone has an opinion but it’s hard to find a sympathetic figure in this debate that would force the Clippers to go against their plan to keep Leonard healthy for the postseason.

Sure, it’s disappointing Clippers star Kawhi Leonard didn’t play against the Bucks, but that’s the cost of doing business in today’s NBA.

The Clippers knew what they were getting when they signed Leonard to a three-year, $103-million maximum contract in the summer. The Clippers and Leonard are on the same page.

ESPN, ABC and Turner Sports are in the midst of a nine-year, $24-billion media rights deal with the NBA. It’s hard to feel for a media conglomerate like the Walt Disney Company or AT&T after a one-night dip in ratings because of “load management.” Fans who were planning to watch the game at home can still do so or can do something else.

Advertisement

It’s also hard to feel sympathy for the NBA when most players have talked about the need to shorten the season and do away with games on consecutive nights. The league won’t do that because it’s not in its best interest. That’s fine. Leonard has taken it upon himself to do it because it’s in his best interest.

Opposing teams shouldn’t care. They’re probably all for it considering their probability of winning that game increases with Leonard sitting out.

Clippers fans in Los Angeles might be upset but they need to be smarter about their ticket purchases when looking at the Clippers’ 41 home games. Stay away from games on consecutive nights. You already know there’s a chance Leonard will sit out one. When it comes to appeasing home fans, the Clippers should be the least affected by load management backlash. You can wake up on most game days and find a $6 ticket to a Clippers home game on the secondary market. There’s no reason to roll the dice on a game two months from now and wonder whether he will play. You can usually find a cheap ticket hours before tipoff when you know who will be in the lineup.

Toronto Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan has his injured thumb wrapped by Raptors player health and performance vice president Alex McKechnie.
Toronto Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan has his injured thumb wrapped by Raptors player health and performance vice president Alex McKechnie prior to Game 7 of the 2016 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Miami Heat.
(Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

The one group that has reason to be upset is Clippers or Leonard fans outside of L.A. who travel to L.A. or another city to see a game. That might be their only chance to see Leonard play in person. But anyone who buys a ticket to see Leonard should know that he has never played more than 74 games in a season and has played an average of about 60 games per season.

So the only group that has a genuine gripe worth sympathy in this load management debate are Clippers or Leonard fans who live outside of L.A. They are more likely to buy a ticket to one of the 10 or 20 games Leonard will sit out this season. I don’t know how many fans fall into that category but it’s certainly not enough for the Clippers and Leonard to stop doing what’s in the best interest of him and the team.

::

Of all the blunders the NFL made in sorting out the relocation of the Rams, Raiders and Chargers, none was bigger than not allowing the Raiders to move back to L.A. with the Rams and opening the door for the Chargers to relocate to Las Vegas.

The NFL wasn’t going to pay for a new stadium in San Diego, Oakland or St. Louis, so let’s move past that. Rams owner Stan Kroenke was building a $5-billion stadium in Inglewood that could house two teams and Las Vegas had $750 million in public money to help finance a stadium for one team. The Rams were always going to end up in L.A. so the only question was where the Raiders and Chargers would go.

Chargers owner Dean Spanos says the team has no interest in moving from L.A. after a report says the NFL is looking into a possible London relocation.
Advertisement

Although the Spanos family had ties to L.A. before moving here, they have long owned property in Las Vegas. It’s not uncommon to see the Chargers’ private plane parked in Las Vegas during the offseason while the Spanoses hold court at their regular booth in Piero’s, an Italian restaurant that displays a Chargers helmet at the bar.

The Rams and Raiders would have returned to strong fan bases in L.A. and the Chargers could have had an entire state to themselves where the Spanoses had roots. Instead, the Raiders are headed to Las Vegas and the Chargers are playing eight road games in Los Angeles.

::

The Rose Bowl, which completed a $183-million renovation in 2016, is looking to improve other parts of the property. The Rose Bowl operating company has hired the Jerde Partnership, the architects behind Bellagio in Las Vegas, Universal CityWalk and Santa Monica Place mall, to revamp the site surrounding the stadium in Pasadena.

The focus will initially be on the open areas to the west and north of the stadium. The goal is to look into programming possibilities, permanent changes needed to accommodate those possibilities as well as addressing access and parking.


Newsletter
Get our daily Sports Report newsletter
Advertisement