A ghost was spotted at the Los Angeles Clippers’ practice yesterday afternoon.
Local media caught a glimpse of Kawhi Leonard. Videos were taken by reporters from the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register of Leonard participating in shooting drills before the team began practicing. He requested that reporters not record him shooting, but they did report back on what they saw.
The Los Angeles Times’ Andrew Grief said that what Leonard spent most of the day working on was jab stepping with the injured right leg, and while planting with the healthy left one. But he did do some work planting left and going right, as well. He also said that Leonard’s shot looked as “tightly wound as ever,” but never moved at full speed. The OC Register’s Mirjam Swanson reported that he went around the world from the 3-point line and made 64 of 85 shots.
This is the first news on Leonard since early February, when Tyronn Lue said that he’s “probably not gonna come back this season,” after partially tearing his right ACL during the Clippers’ second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz in June. Those comments came one month after Yahoo’s and TNT’s Chris Haynes reported that Leonard’s rehab was ahead of schedule, and there was a “strong possibility” that he could return this season. When Lue was asked about Leonard doing shooting drills he said to the media, “I didn’t see him.”
Per usual, a major Leonard injury is shrouded in mystery. He doesn’t speak to the media much outside of required post-game interviews, and those close to him guard his information as though they were fraternity or sorority rituals. The only time there were leaks, they had to do with the quad injury that confounded the sports world during the 2017-18 season, and eventually resulted in him being traded from the San Antonio Spurs. Only after that season entirely blew up did the report from Michael C. Wright and Ramona Shelburne come out about how trust broke down after the Spurs were displeased with Leonard seeking medical opinions outside of the organization.
Try to Google some fresh, concrete information about his current injury. There’s going to be a lot of websites that appear in your results that you don’t recognize. So with Kawhi jab-stepping and burying threes against open air, is it realistic to think he could add to the Clippers if say he sits out the play-in tournament, they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in a play-in game, and are matched up against the Memphis Grizzlies as a seventh-seed?
He could get them through the first round. I enjoy watching the Grizzlies play as much as anyone who isn’t from Southwest Tennessee or Northwest Mississippi, but Leonard would be a problem for them. With Leonard out the entire season, and Paul George out most of it, the Clippers have been able to maintain a top-10 defensive rating. George’s injury was to his elbow, so he still has some time to adjust to NBA speed, and have athleticism to be the dependable defensive presence he’s always been by the postseason after having played in only three games since early January — they’re 2-1 since his return. Leonard’s teammates could handle the defense against the Grizzlies and leave him to use his strength and jump shot to bully this team that has been to the playoffs only once since Marc Gasol, Z-Bo, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen last played there.
Just keep the game close, and they have the closer that no one can objectively say the Grizzlies have, no matter how good Ja Morant looks once he returns from what has been reported as a minor knee injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Mar. 20. He was great against the Utah Jazz last season in Round 1, but they still lost in five games, and every single game that Donovan Mitchell was on the court.
The Clippers get through that and maybe Leonard feels a little better, as does George, and now it’s the Golden State Warriors or Dallas Mavericks in Round 2, depending on which team gets the No. 3 seed. They’ll have a better chance against the Warriors, who have also been battling injuries all season, than against the Mavericks, who have been on a tear since January, and have a target on the Clippers’ backs after losing to them in two consecutive first-round series. Leonard one week or two into the NBA season won’t be enough against a revenge seeking Luka Dončić and company, but they might be able to get past a Warriors team that lacks playoff experience outside of their three best players, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, who have all dealt with injuries this season.
If the Clippers get through that series, now it’s late May and the veteran Leonard has a month of playoff basketball under his belt. The Suns have played better than any team in the NBA, but they haven’t seen their division rival in this form all season. It could be a fun series that comes down to George and Leonard vs. Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
The Western Conference playoffs will be exponentially more fun if Leonard comes back, and he could be worked into this roster with George, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Terrance Mann, and the likely return of Norman Powell from a foot injury. It could absolutely work for the Clippers; there’s just two problems.
They have to beat the Timberwolves in the play-in, and Leonard has to come back against the Grizzlies in the first round. That’s a lot to ask for a team that has already has one player coming back from a Tommy John injury with no Tommy John surgery having been done on his shooting elbow, and now if their best player plays his first NBA minutes since an ACL injury in this season, they will be playoff minutes. Quite the giant IF I know, but IF the stars align, a Clipper comet might be seen streaking through the NBA.