Our exit interview series on the 2024 Clippers concludes with their superstar, Kawhi Leonard.

Basic Information

Height: 6’7

Weight: 225 pounds

Position: Small Forward/Power Forward

Age: 32 (33 in three weeks)

Years in NBA: 13

Key Regular Season Stats: 23.7 points, 3.6 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 1.8 turnovers in 34.3 minutes per game across 68 games played (all starts) on 52.5/41.7/88.5 (4.9 3PA, 4.2 FTA attempts) shooting splits (62.6 True Shooting)

Postseason Stats: 12.0 points, 2.0 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 2.0 turnovers in 29.5 minutes per game across two games played (both starts) on 45.8/0/66.7 shooting splits (2.5 3PA, 1.5 FTA) shooting splits (47.4 True Shooting)

Expectations

The expectations for Kawhi were the same they’ve been every year he’s been on the Clippers: be the best player on the team. More specifically, after a very good regular season in 2023, the expectation for Kawhi was still to be at “best player on a title level” level player in 2024 while hopefully playing more games. As always, Kawhi was projected to score in the mid-20s on excellent efficiency, provide very good defense, support Zu on the glass, and dish a decent number of assists for extremely well-rounded overall production.

Reality

Like many Clippers, Kawhi’s start to the season – both before and after the Harden trade – wasn’t great. He has notoriously been a bit of a slow starter, and that proved true this year. Just like everyone else on the Clippers, he had to adjust to Harden, and not having the ball in his hands as much.

However, the biggest reason for the Clippers’ surge in December – more than Harden, more than Zu, more than anyone – was Kawhi Leonard played at a legitimate MVP level. In those nine games in December, Kawhi averaged 29.3 points on a bonkers 73.2 True Shooting, adding six rebounds and 4.1 rebounds for good measure. Those numbers slipped a bit in January, but were good enough to have Kawhi making 5th MVP ballots halfway through the season when the Clippers briefly got to the 1 seed.

Then, like with everything else on the Clippers, things began to fell apart. Just like with Harden, Kawhi’s numbers looked pretty strong in February, but the impact just didn’t quite seem to be there. In March, Kawhi had his worst month of the season, averaging just 22.9 points on 59.9 True Shooting (still very good), and got injured, missing the last few games of the month and then all of April.

Clippers fans braced for the worst with a Kawhi injury late in the season. Still, reporting around the injury was at least reasonably positive, and the news came out before Game 2 against the Mavs that Kawhi would play. Expectations were reasonably muted after Kawhi had missed a month and seemingly rushed back a bit, but Kawhi overall played well enough even though the Clippers lost, scoring 15 points with 7 rebounds and 4 steals in 35 minutes and looking reasonably athletic. If anything, fans were hopeful Kawhi would keep looking better as the series went along.

That was not the case. Kawhi immediately looked stiff and sore in Game 3, operating more as a decoy than as a functioning part of the Clippers game plan. He logged just 25 minutes in a blowout loss, with 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 turnovers. It was clear that not only was Kawhi not getting healthier, but that he had backslid. Sure enough, he was ruled out of Game 4, and missed Games 5 and 6 as well. Another premature Clippers’ exit.

Future with Clippers

Kawhi Leonard is the Clipper whose future is most certain. He signed a 3 year, $153M deal midseason when the Clippers were playing great, putting him on the books until he will be close to his late 30s. This is not all the way a good thing for the Clippers. While Kawhi had an awesome regular season and the Clippers want to have him to open Intuit with a superstar-level player, he once again missed most of the postseason, resulting in another Clippers’ disappointment. Thus, the real reason Kawhi will be on the team going forward is that nobody in the NBA can trust his health as a trade target.

Kawhi, rightfully, made Second Team All-NBA. He had an excellent regular season, playing in his most games in a season since his peak in 2017 and playing a solid 34.3 minutes per game. He was, for the most part, healthy. But another late season injury has made the Clippers’ plans for Kawhi to be a serious regular season player untenable. All the indications are that load management will be a thing again for Kawhi going forward. No more playing on back to backs. A lighter minutes load. The whole deal. One thing that would be nice for Kawhi – and the team as a whole – would be if the Clippers could add a true, playable power forward to the team so Kawhi could shift to small forward and accumulate less physical wear and tear.

After five years with Kawhi Leonard, it’s hard to say that the 213 era has been anything but a disappointment, despite the 2021 run for the franchise’s first conference finals. Still, Kawhi will be just 33 next year. He was still an easy All-NBA caliber player this year. If the Clippers are cautious, and push the right buttons, maybe, just maybe, they will be able to nurture Kawhi to a healthy postseason for the first time since 2020.

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