Eleven months after Kawhi Leonard underwent surgery to repair a partially torn knee ligament that saw him sidelined for the 2021-22 NBA season, Leonard’s longtime coach fired off a tweet in early June that didn’t go unnoticed.
“Felt like I was in the lab with MJ today,” Clint Parks wrote, adding a hashtag with Leonard’s initials and number. A photo released the same day showed Leonard at the San Diego State practice facility, where his “KL2” banner covered much of a wall behind him.
Leonard’s health is the lynchpin holding together the Clippers’ hopes of flying their first championship banner as early as 2023. Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, didn’t quite reach for a Jordan-level comparison when describing Leonard after picking Michigan’s Moussa Diabate in Thursday’s NBA draft. He acknowledged that even though the NBA Finals’ two-time most valuable player doesn’t play five-a-side games, Leonard “continues to put in great performances.”
“He’s insane with his work ethic, it’s fun to watch,” Frank said. “I’m glad we can afford the light bill because he puts in the hours. But yeah, he’s doing great and developing and it’s great to see him on the pitch.
“I think he’s on the way where he’s developing really well, but five-a-side isn’t something I think he’s doing at this point.”
Leonard will be 14 months away from surgery when unofficial team pickup games begin in September and training camp opens in the final week of this month, timing which should provide an opportunity to assess how he and Paul George are doing a supporting cast including mid-season guard Norman Powell and winger Robert Covington after injuries made that impossible last season. Unless the Clippers shake that core.
As free agency nears June 30, the Clippers like their current roster. Their priority is keeping free agents like wings Nicolas Batum and Amir Coffey, center Isaiah Hartenstein and guard Jay Scrubb. While there’s interest in finally seeing how the pieces fit together, they’re approaching off-season transactions with an open mind.
“We keep evaluating, OK, how can we keep improving, how can we keep getting better?” Frank said. “You know, with some of these things, you might have to forego the benefit of seeing the group together and just take a few educated swings.”
One of the biggest — and hypothetical for now — swings would be Brooklyn point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been linked with the Clippers, Lakers, Philadelphia, Miami, Dallas and New York as targets he would reportedly favor if talks stay in Brooklyn would be mad at a long-term extension.
None of this group has room to add him directly, and only the Lakers, led by Irving’s former Cleveland teammate LeBron James, know Irving’s alluring talent as well as the Clippers. Her ranks of executives and coaches are littered with those who overlapped with him in Cleveland, Boston, and Brooklyn. Irving’s sheer technical ability with the ball sets him apart. It’s also difficult to predict how much he would play or how involved he would be, as previous reports have sometimes described him as unresponsive to others within the organization.
Irving was willing to reportedly cost himself a $17 million salary last season for games he missed when he couldn’t play in New York because he wasn’t vaccinated. He has only played 103 regular season games in his last three seasons.
Though Leonard and George will command the majority of offense next season, league observers believe the Clippers will look to bolster their ball-handler role in some way. However, they also questioned the Clippers’ appetite for adding Irving to a team that relies heavily on the internal chemistry it has enjoyed over the past two seasons under coach Tyronn Lue, the former point guard, the Irving, James and the Cavaliers has trained, has rebuilt NBA Championship 2016.
When asked about the importance of leadership and availability when considering Thursday’s signings, Frank said he weighs a player’s “basketball nature” carefully.
“Basketball character can be a little bit different than what you hear in terms of character,” Frank said. “Basketball character is like, can you count on doing what you do at the highest level every day and are you – how committed are you to those habits? The bond you form with your teammates is part of the basketball character. For example, can you be the same teammate when things are going badly for you and when things are going well for you?
“And I think all of those things are leadership qualities. Regardless of the type of player, your best players are always by nature your leaders, one way or another, because the other player will pay attention to that. We’re really, really lucky to be our two best players [Leonard and George] really really really enjoy each other. Like they have a great bond, which I won’t say is unique, but it doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Loyola Chicago guard Lucas Williamson, 6-5 Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe and 6-7 Utah State forward Justin Bean will sign Annex 10 contracts with the Clippers, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed. The signings are intended to allow them to compete for a two-way deal.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-06-24/kawhi-leonard-recovery-clippers-free-agency-draft Kawhi Leonard impresses Clippers, but what about Kyrie Irving?