Kawhi Leonard denies load management, doesn't believe NBA's rest policy applies to him: 'If I'm able to play, I'll play'

When the NBA approved stricter rules and consequences around its player rest policy in September, many believed that the league had Kawhi Leonard in mind.

It turns out that Leonard wasn't paying attention. The Los Angeles Clippers All-Star was asked for his thoughts on the new rules at media day Monday. He responded with a question of his own:

"What are they?" Leonard asked. "I just don't know the policy. What is the policy?"

NBA's player rest policy

In short, the new policy punishes teams financially for sitting or limiting stars, targeting the increased practice of load management that devalues regular season games in favor of rest for the playoffs. Stars, in this instance, are defined as players who have made an All-Star or All-Pro team in any of the last three seasons. This would include Leonard, who was last named an All-Star in 2021.

The full policy is broken down in detail here. But teams that violate the policy by resting healthy stars in defined situations face escalating fines starting at $100,000 and eventually increasing by increments of up to $1 million for each instance. That adds up quickly.

The Clippers are among the league's most-criticized teams for their implementation of load management with Leonard and fellow All-Star Paul George. In three seasons with the Clippers, not including a 2021-22 campaign lost to an ACL tear, Leonard has missed 85 out of 246 regular season games — more than a full season's worth.

Leonard doesn't believe policy will impact him

When the policy was explained to him, Leonard told reporters that it wouldn't impact him and denied that he's sat because of load management. He cited his extensive injury history that includes the ACL tear and a lingering quad injury in San Antonio prior to his trade to the Toronto Raptors.

He explained his point of view after being asked if he feels like he has an obligation to play every game.

"No. I'm not a guy that's sitting down because I'm doing a load management," Leonard said. "When I was with the Raptors, it was different, like, I was coming from an injury. 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, then 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, not to sit and watch people play. So, no league policy is helping me to play more games."

 Kawhi Leonard denies that he's sat because of load management. (Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard denies that he's sat because of load management. (Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Leonard's explanation touches on the challenge of the new policy. Defining legitimate reasons to sit a player who's experienced injury will remain murky. Leonard's certainly experienced more than his share of significant injuries, and some of his absence during regular seasons can be explained.

But much of it has left NBA fans and network partners wondering why Leonard sat during high-profile TV games or games they paid to see. How the NBA enforces its policy will be one of the new season's most-watched storylines.

Paul George on the new policy

George had a different take than Leonard.

"Absolutely," George said when asked if he has an obligation to play every game. "It just comes down to the guys who you're out there with and obviously the fans. So, yeah. I 100% agree with the obligation that you should play."

Fans, the NBA and its partners will be watching the Clippers — and other teams — closely.