The NBA will use new rest rules this season with the aim of curbing load management issues that have plagued the league in recent years. Some have said that the policies will greatly impact Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers in general, as some see them as the poster children for load management.
However, it seems like that perception has given the organization a wake-up call.
“Don’t think the Clippers didn’t notice that they became the face of nearly every story written about the NBA’s new player participation policy, each headline accompanied by a photo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in street clothes,” wrote Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. “Don’t think they haven’t heard the criticism — about the team’s unreliable health, about its unreached championship ambitions — and even noted that in many cases it has been fair. It drove the team’s decision-makers to reiterate during the offseason the Clippers’ need to ‘compete harder, more consistently, and we have to earn it,’ as president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said last spring.
“That mandate has been evident throughout training camp, with observers describing the tone as more business-like than previous years, pointing to a raised intensity and stripped-away sense of contentment. Understanding that Leonard and George were starting a season healthy for the first time since 2020, and knowing that starting guard Russell Westbrook would prod teammates to match his fervor, the Clippers designed a no-excuses camp with the aim of a strong start to the regular season. It extended beyond drill work, even discouraging players and staff members from flying their families to Hawaii until later in the week.”
Earlier this month, Leonard claimed he didn’t know anything about the new rules and clapped back against the notion that he has intentionally sat out games in recent seasons while healthy.
Kawhi Leonard fires back the load management claims:
“When I was with the Raptors, it was different. I was coming off an injury… If the NBA is trying to mock that, then they should stop. Other than that, if I’m able to play, I’ll play basketball.”
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) October 2, 2023
To be fair to the Clippers, Leonard and George have indeed appeared to be injured frequently since joining forces in Los Angeles. This might be the first time in a while that both players have entered training camp at 100 percent health.
It should bode well for the franchise that its stars are finally on the mend because the results of their partnership haven’t been very inspiring so far.
The 2019-20 season saw the Clippers reach the conference semifinals, only to give up a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets. The following year, they made it to the conference finals but couldn’t overcome Leonard’s absence, falling in six games to the Phoenix Suns.
With the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in street clothes and George missing over 50 games in the 2021-22 campaign, L.A. only made it as far as the play-in tournament and missed the playoffs. Last season, the Clippers couldn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs as the star forwards once again dealt with injuries.
Clippers fans are hoping that the 2023-24 campaign will turn out differently. A healthy camp for Leonard and George certainly gives the organization and its supporters a good amount of optimism.
A huge question looms, though, in that the franchise continues to be linked to James Harden. It remains to be seen how L.A.’s roster will look in the coming weeks.