Kawhi Leonard to come off bench for LA Clippers’ opener

LOS ANGELES — Kawhi Leonard’s return will begin with coming off the bench in Thursday night’s LA Clippers opener against hosts Los Angeles Lakers.

Clippers coach Ty Lue said the decision to bring Leonard off the bench during a minute restriction was a joint decision between the star and the team’s medical staff – one based primarily on how Leonard was feeling.

Lue also said the decision came down to how the Clippers plan to allocate Leonards limited minutes early in the season.

“I just want him until the end of the game if we need him,” Lue said ahead of the competition. “Only for him he wanted to do the best for the team. And I was just thinking what’s best for him, whatever makes him feel better. Being out for 15 months what was the best thing for him as far as health and how he was going to feel.”

When asked if this was Leonard’s idea, Lue said, “How he feels, yes.”

Lue also announced that Reggie Jackson will start as a point guard while John Wall, who missed all of last season with the Houston Rockets, will head up the second unit.

Leonard has not played a meaningful game since torn his right ACL in Game 4 of Round 2 against the Utah Jazz on June 14, 2021. He has played limited minutes in two of the four Clippers’ four preseason games. Lue said the decision was not based on any setbacks to Leonard’s return.

“Good,” Leonard said on Wednesday when asked how he physically got out of the preseason. “I still feel good. I’m moving in the right direction. There really haven’t been any bounces or bounces, so I’m feeling good.”

This is Leonard’s first game since his third season with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013-14, when he played as a reserve with the New York Knicks on November 10.

Leonard said he doesn’t play 5-on-5 basketball in the offseason and that he usually doesn’t do it until training camp. After his ACL injury, Leonard said he spent pretty much 12 to 13 months in the gym working out and building more muscle.

Lue said the Clippers had played “about two or three times” in the past week with Leonard coming off the bench.

“We had a chance to get it off the bench, start it, see how it looks and feels,” Lue said. “He’s been comfortable with that and obviously we’re going to move on with that.”

Lue said this could be a very short-lived idea. It will all be based on how Leonard feels as he progresses.

“He hasn’t played for 15-16 months,” said Lue. “We can’t expect him to be great every night. He has to understand that too. It will be a process. There will be times when he looks like Kawhi Leonard, there will be times when he looks like Kawhi Leonard, he’s just trying to get a feel and isn’t playing well.

“He needs to understand that, great as he is, it’s not just going to come overnight. So we have to be patient with him in that regard and he has to be patient with himself too.”

https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34842291/kawhi-leonard-come-bench-la-clippers-opener Kawhi Leonard to come off bench for LA Clippers’ opener

Emma Bowman

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