Kawhi Leonard: No rehab schedule; could play this season
Kawhi Leonard says he doesn’t use social media, and yet last August, when the free-agent superstar was considering returning to the Clippers with a short-term deal, he envisioned speculation about his intentions going viral.
But outside noise wasn’t the only reason he said he agreed to a four-year contract worth $ 176 million to stay with the Clippers. For the injured all-star, long-term security could pave the way for his return later this season.
Two months after surgery on his right knee to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament, 30-year-old Leonard said during the team’s media day on Monday that he had no schedule for his recovery – but also that he hadn’t closed that Door to play this season.
When asked why he opted for a four-year contract, Leonard said, given the shorter terms the free agent could have chosen instead, one factor was financial stability in the event that “I want to come back when I” could this year.”
“The best situation for me was to do it little by little and then get out and sign a long-term five-year contract, but there are many concerns that raise for you and your job and that creates storylines that I will leave the team”, said Leonard during his first comments on his injury since the injury in June, during the fourth game of the second round of the Clippers playoff series against Utah.
“One thing, I wanted to make some money and I wanted to be able to come back this year if I could. If I’d taken one and the other, I probably wouldn’t have just played out of caution and signed off and taken five years.
“I’m there. I’m here to be a clipper. I’m not going to move to another team unless something drastic happens, but I’m here for the long term.”
Leonard could have opted for his $ 36 million player option for the 2021/22 season and then signed a four-year extension worth around $ 187 million. Instead, he became a free agent, with one option being a two-year contract for $ 82 million with a player option for the second season.
Center Serge Ibaka, who was recruited to sign at the Clippers in November 2020 in part through a text from Leonard, his teammate during a championship run with Toronto, made sure Leonard texted him over the summer to make sure he was returns. But he admitted he had little doubt.
“I know he’s going to stay this season,” said Ibaka, whose recovery from back surgery in June to clean a disc will limit his participation to non-contact exercises when training camps begin on Tuesday.
Orthopedic surgeons and an NBA sports coach said in August that the usual recovery time for an injury like Leonard’s can be nine months to a year, although athletes have returned earlier as well. The playoffs are slated to begin in April, nine months after his surgery.
Meanwhile, Leonard said he plans to make a contribution by watching a movie with his teammates while attending some coaching sessions to share his thoughts.
“I mean, it’s very challenging because I’m injured and I don’t really feel hurt,” said Leonard. “The challenge is to just see how quickly I can get better and how much stronger I can get than I was when I was healthy. I pretty much apply my way of thinking. “
Without Leonard, the Clippers beat Utah in the postseason second round by winning two games without their leading scorer. With Leonard still out, they got Phoenix to six games in the Western Conference final, relying on goals from All-Star striker Paul George, who admitted that if Leonard is out indefinitely, he was “kind of easy “want to do everything on the floor.”
But the burden of shooting and defending does not rest on George alone.
“Of course I have to start the season without Kawhi, my level of play has to increase and I think that as a team our level as a whole has to increase because we are missing a large part,” said striker Marcus Morris.
Coach Tyronn Lue believes Leonard will not take any road trips with the team for the first few months of the season so Leonard can continue his normal rehabilitation routine in hopes of speeding up his recovery.
“We don’t want to force him or put him under pressure,” said Lue. “We want to make sure he gets rehabilitated, do whatever we can to get back as soon as possible, and when it’s next season, it’s next season.”
If Leonard’s availability remains a question mark for the entire season, the Clippers’ expectations are clear from the start without him.
“We understand that we have to keep building, keep getting better, we understand that,” said Lue. “But our expectations do not change. You still come out and try to compete to win a championship. When you lose a guy like Kawhi, I know that things don’t seem possible, but anything is possible. Our boys proved that last year. “