OKC Thunder: Fans can take comfort in fact Chris Paul and his teammates, unlike Kawhi Leonard, have no need for 'load management'


AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck

Oklahoma City Thunder's Chris Paul (3) goes against Golden State Warriors' Alec Burks during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

We miss them, but there are things, perhaps, sports can live without.

No, we don’t really need a five-man rotation of starting pitchers, what used to make way for 40 starts in a season and several 20-game winners.

Nor do we need football players — or Eduardo Najera in a different sport — returning to the game a few minutes after suffering a concussion.

We don’t need hockey players playing with broken bones, nor athletes of any and all stripes popping amphetamines on the way out of the locker room.

We could, however, insist upon healthy basketball players playing in basketball games.

It was a week ago, it was the first night of a back-to-back, the Los Angeles Clippers playing host to Milwaukee, even after two days off, that Kawhi Leonard, the reigning playoff MVP and maybe the league’s best player, chose to sit out, despite being healthy and rested.

The NBA chose not categorize it that way, thus Leonard sat out, officially, with a knee issue. Of course, Leonard nor the Clippers made any kind of an effort to convince anybody of it.

Instead, it was “load management” at best (and worst), the misguided resting of a healthy player in the name of the greater good.

Strange, then, that Leonard sat against the Bucks after two days off — what became a 129-124 loss — rather than play against the Bucks and sit the next night against Portland, a good team but maybe not as good as the Bucks.

None of it makes sense.

What makes sense is Leonard, all things considered, simply didn’t care to match up against Milwaukee and its best player, reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Oh, yeah, it was already the second time this season Leonard and the Clippers, despite good health, decided he didn’t need to play, the second time in just eight games.

He also sat the first night of a back-to-back on Oct. 30, not playing at Utah before playing at home against the Spurs. The Clippers lost that game, too.

At least Thunder fans can take pride in the fact their team has yet to take part in such shenanigans.

Sunday was the second night of a back-to-back for Oklahoma City.

Steven Adams did not play, the result of a contused knee that flared back up following a Saturday night victory over Golden State.

His absence was regrettable and not planned like.

It was a game-day decision, perhaps made out of caution, yet not made out of a complete disregard for the integrity of the game, that being a sense of honor that when you’re rested and healthy, you play.

Indeed, if anybody deserves a night off for no reason at all, it’s Chris Paul, now in his 15th season, yet that hasn’t happened either.

Paul has played both sides of two different back-to-backs, games in which the Thunder have gone 2-2, one of which he played only 19 minutes, yet only because OKC had put Golden State away by the half.

Saturday, he was on the court for 30:34, finishing with 16 points and nine assists in a return match against the Warriors.

Sunday, he was on for 31:46, finishing with 17 points and five assists against Milwaukee, the team Leonard chose not to face.

OKC coach Billy Donovan spoke to the issue on Saturday before the Thunder tipped against the Warriors.

“We evaluate guys after the game,” he said. “We’re not going into the games with an idea that someone will play the first game, rest the second.”

Perhaps that’s because the Thunder are above it. Or perhaps they don’t look at it that way at all. Perhaps they simply believe the idea that healthy, well rested players should take a night off for no good reason is horrendously insane.

Maybe that’s why.

Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript.


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