The conventional wisdom around the league is Kawhi Leonard will miss this entire upcoming season. He suffered a partial ACL tear during the playoffs in June and had surgery in July. While the standard timeline for an ACL recovery would have Leonard returning to the court around the end of next season, history also suggests he tends to be cautious and take his time making injury comebacks.
“Nobody knows at this stage,” Ballmer said. “Nobody knows. It’s possible. For sure, it’s possible. But it will depend on what the doctors say and what Kawhi says.”
Good luck predicting (or knowing) what Leonard is thinking and will do.
For the Clippers, the calculus is pretty simple: With a fully healthy Leonard at his peak, the Clippers are a threat to the favorite Lakers and are contenders in the West. Without him — or with him back but not fully trusting his knee and playing at his peak — they are a likely playoff team but not a title threat. Ballmer, of course, said the Clippers are aiming a title this season regardless.
“We come in every year looking for a title!” Ballmer said. “That’s what we do. We’re coming in this year looking for a title. Obviously not having arguably one of our two best players, that hurts. We’ll see when we get Kawhi back. But you think through a three-year stretch, we got all of these guys under contract for this year and next year. I think it gives us a lot of opportunity to compete.”
Ballmer isn’t wrong. With Leonard and George the Clippers have as good a two-way wing duo as there is in the league, and come the playoffs elite wing play brings titles. Around that duo the Clippers have quality role players, and management has made sure both the roster and financial situation of the team is flexible and able to adapt. This team is poised to be elite.
Once Leonard returns. Whenever that is.