The Big LeadThe Big Lead

The NBA Saddled ESPN With Kawhi Leonard Load Management

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers warms up before the basketball game against against San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on October 31, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

For the second straight week, Kawhi Leonard is out for ESPN's Wednesday night showcase game, and someone in the NBA's scheduling department deserves to be chewed out over it. Last week, ESPN management was not happy about the situation and it's a fair bet that's the case again.

The Clippers and Leonard himself are not blameless in this scenario but they're pretty clearly acting in their own self interest as far as maximizing championship chances is concerned. A system where the customers -- TV partners, yes, as well as anyone who spent money on a ticket hoping to see two of the best players in the world in Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo square off in an Eastern Conference Finals rematch -- are set up with basically scratch lottery tickets as to whether they'll get the best players is a flawed one.

The NBA can scream at the top of its lungs about Leonard's doctor all they want, but they knew from last year he's not playing back-to-backs and yet still scheduled the Clippers with back-to-backs including a national TV game two weeks in a row -- and with Los Angeles playing Portland tomorrow night on TNT, the second one featured two national TV games in row. I get that this is a hard job and they've got circuses and concerts to account for all over the country, but this specific situation should never, ever happen.

Doris Burke had it completely right: The NBA's TV ratings were already down last year, and at some point this roulette game of when players will rest is going to pinch them:

This is the second straight week that Kawhi has missed the FRONT end of a back-to-back on ESPN. Last week, he didn't want to look like he was ducking the Spurs. This week, the Clippers are choosing to play him against a conference opponent instead of giving fans an objectively better showcase matchup against a title contender. It stinks.

We all know the Raptors won the title with this strategy last season, and the NBA needs to shorten the season or at the very least not have ANY national TV games involved with back-to-backs.