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SALT LAKE CITY — There might be some disappointed Utah Jazz fans on Wednesday night. If you wanted to see Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard suit up against the Jazz, you're out of luck.
Leonard won't be playing in Salt Lake City. The reason? Load management.
This isn’t new for last season’s NBA Finals MVP. It was a common practice for him in Toronto, where he played just 60 games, and will be once again. Wednesday's game is unique, though. There are NBA rules against players resting for national tv games (the Clippers and Jazz will air on ESPN), but according to ESPN's Rachel Nichols, the Clippers got the rest preapproved by the league.
"Our goal is to have him playing and being fresh all year, and we're doing that so far," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters at Wednesday’s shootaround. "I keep saying this: He's not the only guy we're having those conversations with, and every team is doing it.”
Every team is doing it — and that includes the Utah Jazz. Utah head coach Quin Snyder said it’s something that he and team trainer Mike Elliott discuss all the time. And while it’s not all that common for Jazz players to sit out games to rest (though, it has happened), that doesn’t mean they are not monitoring recovery.
“Coaches manage loads all the time with practice, with minutes within a different game,” Snyder said. “It kind of defies definition. If you only play someone for 7 minutes in a game, is that considered management? Or is 13 management? Or is 23 or 33? Or do you not play someone in overtime? So it really defies specific general statements. It's obviously something that we're aware of and lend credence to.”
Kawhi out vs Utah for "load management/knee." This seems counter to NBA rules on not resting players for nationally televised games (fines up to $100,000), but the league office tells me the Clippers got this approved in advance & are "currently in compliance with the policy" pic.twitter.com/UIs3emOglW— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) October 30, 2019
In an 82-game season filled with seemingly non-stop travel (the Jazz will play their fifth game in a week on Wednesday, and all have been in different cities), rest is no doubt important. It goes into decisions over when to practice, when to host shootaround and when to fly out of cities. This year, for example, the Jazz are planning on leaving the day after games during long road trips instead of immediately following the contest.
“I think it's very specific to a situation, a player, a team,” Snyder said. “And it's something we're conscious of and believe in, but how that translates and whether people externally see that happening and can point to it and talk about it is, you know, is a different story.”
Because no matter how important rest is, missing games does leave some players — and especially fans — with a bad taste in their mouths.
Utah's Joe Ingles has played in 308 straight games, the longest current streak in the NBA, and he doesn't love the thought of players sitting out.
“Personally, I don't really like it,” Ingles said. “I enjoy playing. Obviously, if I'm injured or going to hurt myself or risk myself, I'm not going to do it. But I've been fortunate, obviously too, with injuries.
"I take pride in trying to play every game. And I think it's just something I've always done. I've tried to play as many games as you can, whenever you can. Obviously, health is No. 1, but, like I said, I've been lucky on that side of things. You obviously can't judge anyone else. You don't know what other people are going through, so hopefully, he's all right — we'll see him next time I guess.”
As for sitting out in Salt Lake, Leonard could have picked a worse place.
“It's a good place to rest,” Ingles quipped. “Beautiful city; look out at the mountains.”