When asked about the possible return of Kawhi Leonard this season, Clippers owner Steve Baller said, “nobody knows at this stage.”
Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank knows better than to contradict the guy who signs the checks. Frank met with the media on Friday in advance of training camp opening next week and echoed the Clippers’ owner on Leonard’s return, with the quote via Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register.
“At this point, it’s just no one knows when you’re dealing with a recovery from an ACL (injury), the timeframe.”
“Even just to save you guys throughout the year,” Frank told reporters logged into the Zoom video conference, “(the answer is) is no one knows. You just attack it day by day. He has a very detailed plan with a great group, and we’ll just let his body and the doctors tell us when it’s the right time.”
Leonard partially tore his ACL during the playoffs then had surgery on in it July. Timelines for ACL returns vary depending on the details of the injury, but a nine-month recovery would have him back on the court around the end of this coming season. However, Leonard historically tends to be cautious and take his time making injury comebacks, and the conventional wisdom is he will not be on the court for the Clippers this season.
Leonard also signed a four-year, $176 million extension to remain with the Clippers this offseason, and Frank was happy to lock down their best player even with the injury.
“The fact that he’s not only decided to remain a Clipper but that 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.”
This is a deal that works for both sides. The Clippers lock up a top-five player in the NBA when healthy. The four-year contract allows Leonard to sign an extension in two years — as has been common around the NBA of late with the eight percent raises allowed in an extension outpacing how fast the cap is rising — or he can ride out the contract, which will end after a new broadcast rights deal is signed and the salary cap is expected to rise again.
This season, the Clippers will still be a quality team led by Paul George and a deep roster, but they are not title contenders without Leonard.