Kawhi Leonard has been a bust in L.A.
We could sugarcoat it. We can talk in clichés like many former athletes now on TV, telling the viewers that we have to wait and see.
But let’s not go there.
The here and now is that Leonard hasn’t lived up to his billing before coming to the Los Angeles Clippers two seasons ago in a move that rocked NBA America.
Leonard’s free-agent addition — along with the trade for Paul George — made the Clippers the favorite to win the NBA title last season. That’s incredible stuff when you consider that this sad-sack organization had NEVER even been to a conference finals before.
But here we are, a year-and-a-half later with plenty of regular-season wins to feel good about, but still not sure if Leonard will deliver the way he did in Toronto and in San Antonio.
In those stops, Leonard won championships and Finals MVP both times.
For sure, this isn’t just an overreaction to the Clippers’ ugly loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. In that game, L.A. went 0-for-9 from the field in the final four minutes to lose. It was the Clippers’ most misses without a make in the last four minutes of regulation over the last 10 seasons.
Leonard missed his last four shots of the fourth quarter, including two late that were potential go-ahead or game-tying threes. Worse than that single performance is that Leonard has missed 18 of 20 threes in crunch time (last five minutes or OT of a game within five points) since joining the Clippers in 2019.
It gets worse. Overall, Leonard’s field-goal percentage in clutch time has decreased from 38.6 percent last season to 28 present this season. Leonard has the fourth-worst clutch field-goal percentage in the NBA (min. 20 FGA), according The NBA Central.
Despite just being 3.5 games out of the top spot in the Western Conference, the Clippers are off the radar. People won’t believe in them or Leonard until they win big games in the postseason. Period.
Most can’t get their postseason collapse last season out of their heads. And the meltdown against the Nuggets in Game 7 of the second round was led by Leonard, who shot a woeful 8-for-22 and finished with just 14 points.
That Game 7 against Denver, with a trip to the conference finals on the line, was why the Clippers got Leonard.
They needed a guy who had been through the wars of the postseason and delivered when his teammates shrunk.
After all, the Clippers were up 3-1 in the series, they needed their leader to win them just one of the final three games in the series.
And when the Nuggets forced the Clippers to a Game 7, it was supposed to be Leonard Time.
Yes, we could have expected others on that bench to be no-shows with the heat lamps on the back of their necks, but not Leonard.
Remember when he beat the Sixers in Game 7 with that shot at the buzzer to send Canada into a frenzy? That’s what Clipper fans thought they were gonna get.
Instead, Leonard was a dud, a no-show. He turned in an absolute stinker when his team needed him most.
Going into that postseason, many were ready to crown Kawhi king of the NBA.
He was in position to lead a third franchise to a championship, win a third Finals MVP and lead back-to-back franchises to titles who were both previously championship-less.
This wasn’t a pipe dream, a fairytale.
Leonard’s stock was at an all-time high.
Then come games like Sunday when you think, maybe it’s just not going to happen for the Clippers with Leonard.
To his credit, Leonard didn’t want the easy way for his career. It was all set up for him. The Lakers not only had Anthony Davis to go along with LeBron James, they also had a free-agent mega-dollar contract with Leonard’s name on it.
He still would have been able to return home to Los Angeles. He would still play at Staples. He still would have gotten his loot. And he would have joined the biggest of Big 3s The Association would have ever seen.
Leonard refused easy street for the hard road, trying to make a longtime doormat a champion in a town where they’re a distant second banana.
Until further notice, Leonard hasn’t gotten the job done. That’s why calling him a bust is just.