Our exit interview series on the 2023 Clippers continues with superstar Kawhi Leonard.
Weight: 225 pounds
Position: Small Forward
Years in NBA: 12
Key Regular Season Stats: 23.8 points, 3.9 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks, 1.7 turnovers in 33.6 minutes per game across 52 games played (50 starts) on 51.2/41.6/87.1 (4.8 3PA and 5.4 FTA) shooting splits
Postseason Stats: 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocked shots, 3.0 turnovers in 40 minutes across two games played.
Coming off an ACL tear, Clipper Nation was unsure what to realistically expect from Kawhi Leonard to begin the 2022-23 season. There was definitely some optimism considering that from top to bottom the Clippers looked like they had a championship caliber roster.
Prior to Leonard’s injury in Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals, he had been playing some of his best basketball. He was phenomenal in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks helping the Clippers come back from losing the first three home games of the series. After falling behind 0-2 to the Utah Jazz, his play helped the Clippers tie the series up at home. And that’s when the injury struck.
With Leonard being forced to miss the entirety of the 2021-22 season, it was always best for Clippers fans to temper their expectations to start this season as he continued to fully recover from the injury.
Although patience was going to be critical to begin this season, Clippers fans probably didn’t envision what actually happened. The season started out bizarre and should have been a harbinger of things to come. Leonard came off the bench against the Los Angeles Lakers on the first game of the season and didn’t get into the game until midway through the second quarter.
He sat out the front end of a back to back after that, then missed a big stretch of games as the knee wasn’t responding as well as the team had hoped.
Once Leonard returned, he continued his load management not playing on any back to backs. After starting out the season a bit slowly, as expected, Leonard began working himself back into top shape. There was one weird incident against the Memphis Grizzlies when Leonard, after starting the game, surprisingly sat for the second half. But aside from that, he started looking more and more like the superstar that he is.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, wonky lineups and inconsistent play saw them hovering over .500 for much of the season. The entire mood seemed to be that if they can just get to the playoffs healthy, then they’ll take it from there.
The good news was that by the final two months of the regular season, Leonard was unstoppable. His movement was back. His shot was back. His defense was back. Despite everything the Clippers had endured during the regular season, it was hard not to imagine a strong playoff run with Leonard at his best.
Sure enough, when the postseason rolled around, despite no Paul George, Leonard went toe to toe with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in the first two games of the first round and Clippers fans started believing again. Bad luck just seems to follow this team though as Leonard suffered a knee injury sometime during Game 2 and ultimately was ruled out for the remainder of the series.
Future with Clippers
Kawhi Leonard still has at least one year left on his contract with the Clippers, possibly two if he decides to use his player option to opt in, in the 2024 offseason. Despite ridiculousness coming from the national media, Leonard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The Clippers aren’t going to make any drastic changes before they move to their new arena and they certainly aren’t going to trade Leonard.
The feeling around this team is they just got hit with some unfortunate injury luck once again and that the nucleus is there to win a championship. Should Leonard remain for the duration of this contract, he will hit unrestricted free agency in 2025. Obviously if injury issues continue to persist between now and then, the Clippers are going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations. But as of now, Leonard’s future with the team is not in any peril.