The Los Angeles Clippers have been fined $50,000 by the NBA after head coach Doc Rivers made comments about resting Kawhi Leonard that the league felt were inconsistent with the injury-related reasons for sitting the superstar.
NBA officials have reiterated that there was nothing wrong with the Clippers choosing to rest Leonard on Wednesday night versus the Milwaukee Bucks, when the team had their first of two games on back-to-back nights.
NBA Says Clippers Followed Injury Protocol
The league released a statement that Los Angeles was well within its rights to sit Leonard as part of a management strategy for a knee injury.
“Following additional review of the LA Clippers not playing Kawhi Leonard in last night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA has confirmed that the team’s decision to sit Leonard for management of an injury was consistent with league rules,” an NBA press release read. “The team has reasonably determined that Leonard is suffering from an ongoing injury to the patella tendon in his left knee and has been placed by the team at this time on an injury protocol for back-to-back games.”
But the NBA said Rivers’ comments before the Clippers game on Wednesday weren’t consistent with the injury information the league had, potentially undercutting its defense of the team’s decision.
“He feels great. But he feels great because of what we’ve been doing,” Rivers told reporters. “And we are just going to continue doing it. There’s no concern here. But we want to make sure…he played a lot of minutes in the playoffs last year. And it’s not a health thing.”
Leonard Backs Coach, Questions NBA Statement
Leonard responded to the fine by defending his coach, and questioned why the NBA believed it had to publicly disclose the details of his knee injury in its statement.
“I mean it was shocking, but it doesn’t matter to me,” Leonard said after Thursday’s 107-101 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. “We’re going to manage it the best way we can to keep me healthy, and that’s the most important thing, me being healthy moving forward.”
Leonard also said it was “disappointing” that the NBA would fine Rivers for comments that were related to the health of a player.
“It feels like they want players to play even if they’re not ready,” Leonard told reporters. “I don’t read into it. I have to do what will make me healthy and help the team be successful. That’s me being able to play basketball games for us.”
Having the night off on Wednesday may have helped Leonard give the best effort possible for the Clippers on Thursday. Leonard put up 27 points and 13 rebounds – including 18 points in the fourth quarter – in the Los Angeles victory over Portland.
“Well, he looked well-rested,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said afterwards.
The Clippers are currently the +350 favorites to win the NBA championship, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Leonard is a +600 choice to win the league’s MVP award, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo (+250) and James Harden (+550).