Kawhi Leonard Impresses in His Comeback, But Will Clippers Link Him to Kyrie Irving?

FILE - In this file photo from May 31, 2021, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard watches the ball.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard looks set to fit against the Charlotte Hornets in May 2021. Leonard appears to be making good progress with his recovery from a partially torn knee ligament, but will he be playing alongside Kyrie Irving next season? (Jacob Kupferman / Associated Press)

Eleven months later Kawhi Leonard has surgery to repair a partially torn knee ligament that sidelined him for the NBA season 2021-22Leonard’s longtime trainer fired off a tweet in early June that did not go unnoticed.

“It felt like I was in the lab with MJ today,” Clint Parks wrote, adding a hashtag with Leonard’s initials and number. A photo posted the same day showed Leonard in the San Diego state exercise facility, where his “KL2” banner covered much of a wall behind him.

Leonard’s health is the linchpin that clippers‘ hopes to raise their first championship flag as early as 2023. Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, didn’t quite reach for a comparison on Jordan when he described Leonard after Selecting Moussa Diabate from Michigan in Thursday’s NBA Draft† He acknowledged that while the NBA Finals’ two-time most valuable player doesn’t play five-on-five games, Leonard “continues to do well.”

“He’s maniacal in his work ethic, it’s fun to watch,” Frank said. ‘I’m glad we can pay the light bill, because he works a lot of hours. But yeah, he’s doing great, and he continues to make progress and it’s great to see him on the pitch.

“I think he’s on track where he’s developing really well, but five-on-five isn’t something I think he’s doing right now.”

Leonard will be 14 months away from surgery when unofficial team pick-up games begin in September and training camp begins the last week of that month, a timing that should provide an opportunity to evaluate how he and Paul George fit in with a support team. cast, including midseason additions, guard Norman Powell and wing Robert Covington, after injuries made that impossible last season. Unless the Clippers shake up that core.

With the free agency approaching June 30, the Clippers are keeping their current roster. Their priority is to retain free agents such as Nicolas Batum and Amir Coffey wings, center Isaiah Hartenstein and security guard Jay Scrubb. While there is interest in finally seeing how the pieces fit together, they approach off-season transactions with an open mind.

“We keep reviewing, okay, how can we continue to upgrade, how can we get better?” said Frank. “You know, some of those things, maybe you have to do it without seeing the group advantage together, and you just have to take some skilled swings.”

One of the biggest – and for now hypothetical – swings would be Brooklyn Point Guard Kyrie IrvingWho was linked to the ClippersLakersPhiladelphia, Miami, Dallas and New York, as destinations he reportedly preferred, were allowed to continue talks in Brooklyn for a lengthy extension.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving controls the ball against the Orlando Magic in March.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving controls the ball against the Orlando Magic in March. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

None of that group has cap space to add him outright and only the Lakers, led by Irving’s former Cleveland teammate LeBron James, know Irving’s tantalizing talent as well as the Clippers. Their ranks of executives and coaches are dotted with those who overlapped him in Cleveland, Boston, and Brooklyn. Irving’s sheer technical prowess with the ball makes him unique. So is the difficulty of predicting how much he would play or how involved he would be, with previous reports describing that he was sometimes unresponsive to others within the organization.

Irving was willing to reportedly cost himself $17 million in salary last season for missed games while unable to play in New York because he was not vaccinated. In his last three seasons, he played just 103 regular-season games.

While Leonard and George will lead most of the offense next season, league observers believe the Clippers will try to bolster their ballhandler role in some way. However, they also questioned the Clippers’ desire to add Irving to a team that feels strongly about the internal chemistry it has built over the past two seasons under coach Tyronn Lue, the former guard who brought Irving, James and the Cavaliers to the match led. 2016 NBA Championship.

When asked how important leadership and availability are when considering roster additions on Thursday, Frank said he carefully weighs a player’s “basketball character”.

“The basketball character might be a little different than what you hear in terms of character,” Frank said. “The basketball character is like, can you be counted on every day to do what you do at the highest level, and are you – how committed are you to those habits? basketball character.Like, can you be the same teammate when you’re doing badly, but also when you’re doing well?

“And I think all those things are leadership qualities. Innately, regardless of the type of players, your best players are always your leaders in one way or another because that’s what the other player is going to look at. We are really lucky that our two best players [Leonard and George] really, really, really enjoying each other. Like they have a great bond with each other, I wouldn’t say unique, but it doesn’t happen everywhere.”


Loyola Chicago guard Lucas Williamson, 6-foot-5 Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe and 6-7 Utah State forward Justin Bean will sign the ten contracts with the Clippers, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed. The signing is intended to allow them to compete for a two-way contract.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times

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