Kawhi: ‘No league policy helping me play more’

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Perhaps no NBA player has been more associated with load management and the league’s new player participation policy more than LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, but Leonard pushed back on that policy during the team’s media day Monday — saying that “no league policy is helping me to play more games.”

Leonard was making his first comments since tearing the meniscus in his right knee during the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns in April. That injury marked the second time in three years that Leonard, 32, suffered a right knee injury in the postseason. He also tore his right ACL during the second round of the team’s 2021 run to the Western Conference Finals.

After that ACL injury, Leonard missed the 2021-22 season. He has not played in more than 60 games in any season since 2016-17.

When first asked about the new policy that was passed last month, which states that teams must ensure no more than one star player is unavailable for the same game, Leonard asked what the new rules were.

When a reporter answered, Leonard responded by noting that his on-again, off-again availability with the Toronto Raptors in the 2018-19 season — when he led the team to a championship — came while he was rehabilitating a knee injury.

“I’m not a guy that’s sitting down because I’m doing load management — well, when I was with the Raptors, it was different; like, I was coming [off] an injury,” he said. “And you have to know the details from the doctor.

“But if the league is seeing or trying to mock what I did with the Raptors, they should stop because I was injured during that whole year. But other than that, if I’m able to play, I’ll play basketball. I work out every day in the summertime to play the game. So, no league policy is helping me to play more games.”

Regarding the new policy, Clippers head coach Ty Lue said, “If our players are healthy, they’re going to play. I know there’s a big thing, like, our guys don’t like to play or whatever, but that’s not true. Our guys want to play. Unfortunately, they’ve had injuries…So, if our guys are healthy, they’re going to play, and that’s all we’re really focused on.”

Leonard suffered his meniscus injury during the first game of the Clippers’ first-round series against the Suns in April. He played through it in Game 2 of that series and then was ruled out for the next three games. Leonard underwent a cleanup procedure on his meniscus on June 6.

Leonard said he didn’t do anything especially new this offseason in terms of preparing his body for the season. Instead, he focused on the fickle nature of some injuries.

“It’s a matter of, if you’re going to trip on somebody; a lot of my injuries last year, I stepped on someone’s foot or ran into somebody,” Leonard said. “You’ve got to control what you can control and get the treatments that you can and listen to your body, keep moving and see what happens.”

Leonard added later, “You either going to get hurt, or you’re going to be lucky enough to play games throughout the playoffs or the whole regular season…I’m not trying to get to a certain amount of games. I’m trying to play the games I can play. If I’m hurt, I can’t play basketball. The last two years, unfortunately, I got hurt, tore my ACL, then, at the end of the year, tore my meniscus. It’s basketball.

“I’m a two-way player. I play hard, so injuries are going to come. I’m not out there just walking around. I play both ends of the floor. I see the best players on both ends every night. Either I’m guarding the best player or the best player is guarding me. If an injury comes, that’s what happens.”

Last week, Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, said both Leonard and Paul George — who was sidelined by a right knee sprain in that first-round series against Phoenix — are “fully healthy” entering the team’s training camp in Hawaii.

For all the acclaim when Leonard and George joined the Clippers, the two have rarely been healthy together during their for seasons together. They played just 38 games together last season, and, all told, they’ve played in just 142 total regular-season and postseason games combined, during which the team has posted a 96-46 record.

When asked about the league’s new policy, George said, “If healthy, absolutely, I’m suiting up, and I want to play every night.”



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