When Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard first injured himself against the Jazz in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the severity of his injury was unknown to most people.
After a few MRIs it was revealed that he suffered a torn ACL. The injury occurred on June 15, and Leonard didn’t have surgery until July 13, a month later.
This development lessened the possibility of the best two-way player in the league returning during the 2021-22 NBA season which begins in October.
Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard in a hoodie that said “Clip gang or don’t bang” on the front with a picture of Paul George and Marcus Morris flexing after Leonard’s playoff dunk on Mavericks’ Maxi Kleber on the back pic.twitter.com/2iEOjpJany
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 17, 2021
Leonard just re-signed with the Clippers on a max deal worth $176 million over four years. But new developments on Friday affirm that the Clippers and Leonard don’t have a timetable for his return to the court.
Asked if Kawhi Leonard could return this season, Lawrence Frank says "no one knows" and "we don't even breach that" thought. He says Kawhi has a detailed plan and team will wait until when his body is ready and doctors clear him.
— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) September 24, 2021
The Clippers can scratch any hope of a title run without the two-time champion to lead the way.
Known to be a bit mysterious and unassuming, Leonard’s delayed reaction to re-signing and surgery really bothered NBATV analyst Jared Greenberg.
“It’s so frustrating what’s going on with Kawhi Leonard right now,” Greenberg told the DA show. “He’s not gonna play next year. He had ACL surgery in July, and that’s not even factoring in that he takes his time coming back from injuries. He’s the most cautious player in the league in the history of the league when it comes to coming back from injuries.”
Clippers general manager Lawrence Frank is just pleased to have Kawhi signed and sealed. He said during a remote news conference on Friday that the team won’t rush Leonard back and they support him.
“When you have a transcendent talent like Kawhi, one of the best players in the world, that was priority No.1,” Frank said. “The fact that he’s not only decided to remain a Clipper, but he’s firmly planted his flag in the ground, I think it’s great. It’s validation of a lot of different things — the organization that Steve and the group has built where a talent like Kawhi wants to be a Clipper for a long time.”
What’s Good With Kawhi?
Medical experts said Leonard’s rehab could take six months, but more likely nine months to a year.
It’s possible that he could return for the NBA playoffs in mid-April, but we know it rarely works out that way. The playoffs are an incredibly tough spot for a superstar that’s coming off serious injury to get reacclimated to NBA competition.
Remember, this is the same Kawhi Leonard, who refused to play for the San Antonio Spurs after a quad injury and what he detailed as the team’s medical staff misdiagnosing his injury.
The indirect criticism by head coach Gregg Popovich and teammate Tony Parker didn’t help matters at all. Leonard was eventually traded to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan following the 2017-18 season.
A Clippers team led by coach Tyronn Lue and Paul George will continue to strive to be competitive, but will have to do it without the services of their best player.
With Leonard’s time table unknown, the Clippers will have to grind it out against some of the loaded Western Conference teams.
Last time we saw Kawhi Leonard on the court before his injury: pic.twitter.com/Ly09JEfX7F
— Proud Clipper Fan (@dylandontcap) August 15, 2021
Don’t Rock The Boat
There’s no way the Clippers would take the same approach with Leonard as the Spurs did. We already see how Leonard responds to an aggressive approach by management.
The Clippers organization will continue to walk on eggshells to accommodate Kawhi, but if he doesn’t return and the year starts to go really sour, the patience and support of the fans could diminish quickly.
Just when Clippers fans thought they were riding out of the Lakers’ shadow with two top 10 players and their own arena in Inglewood, this Kawhi situation puts a damper on all of the optimism.