Charles Barkley has called on the LA Clippers to "be honest" about the status of Kawhi Leonard after the team was fined by the NBA for making 'inconsistent statements' about the player's health.
Leonard sat out a 129-124 home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, the second time he has missed the nationally televised front end of a back-to-back this season. He had 27 points and 13 rebounds in a nationally televised 107-101 win over Portland on Thursday night.
Speaking on TNT's Inside the NBA immediately after the Clippers' victory, Barkley said: "[If you're the Clippers], just say you don't want [Leonard] playing in back-to-back games. Just be honest with the fans. I don't think [there is an injury keeping Leonard out of games].
"I'm saying it is clear they are not going to play Leonard in back-to-back games. That's all they've got to say. I would respect that.
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"We're a team. We're all trying to make basketball big. I was disappointed on Wednesday night when I didn't get to see Kawhi against the 'Greek Freak'."
The NBA initially confirmed the Clippers were compliant with league rules in resting Leonard because of a knee injury. It was what Rivers said before the game that in part triggered the fine.
"He feels great," Rivers said on Wednesday. "But he feels great because of what we've been doing, and we're just going to continue to do it. There's no concern here."
Rivers cited "a lot of minutes" that Leonard racked up last season while leading Toronto to their first NBA championship.
"I think Kawhi made a statement that he's never felt better," Rivers said. "It's our job to make sure he stays that way."
Less than 24 hours later, the NBA fined the Clippers $50,000 for statements, including those by Rivers, that were inconsistent with Leonard's health status while also detailing his knee injury. At the same time, the league reaffirmed the team was in line with NBA rules in sitting Leonard.
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"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," the league's statement said.
Speaking on Inside the NBA, Barkley's fellow analyst Kenny Smith said he saw both sides of the argument.
"I will side with Charles on this but I also side with the team," he said. "[I believe Kawhi] isn't medically hurt. However, he is a guy who missed a whole season and [the Clippers are] scared and don't want him to have that heavy workload.
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"The thing I don't understand is why they don't sit him out against Orlando, the Knicks, Sacramento - teams they think they can beat without Kawhi - and say 'you're not sitting out against the 'Greek Freak', we can't beat the Milwaukee Bucks without you'.
"We're not saying what the Clippers are doing is wrong."
Inside the NBA analyst Shaquille O'Neal took a different tack on the issue. "This has been going on for years. Gregg Popovich started it," he said.
"I'm not going to question where Kawhi is hurt or not. We all know because we played that there are minor injuries and major injuries. We played through minor injuries but now, if I tweak my finger and I could still play, I don't want to play. That's load management."