SEATTLE, WA – Paul George and the LA Clippers are expected to get Kawhi Leonard back from his ACL injury for Monday night’s preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers. His teammates cannot wait to see him back on the court.
Speaking with multiple Clippers players throughout training camp and practices, the overall vibe is that Kawhi Leonard is not only back, but back better than he was before.
“It’s crazy to say, but he looks even better than what everyone in the world is accustomed to,” Reggie Jackson told ClutchPoints at Clippers shootaround. “I didn’t think [it was possible], but I’m always glad to have him as a teammate.
“It’s gonna be scary.”
If Leonard does indeed return Monday, it’ll mark his first NBA action in 476 days. His last appearance in a game was June 14, 2021 in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. The two-time NBA Finals MVP finished that game with 31 points and seven rebounds, but had his night cut short after being intentionally bumped and fouled by Jazz forward Joe Ingles.
"Can I get that real quick, 2? I gotta get used to this again."
Reggie Jackson asked Kawhi Leonard to hit him with the assist at Clippers shootaround.
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) September 30, 2022
“[Looks like the] same Kawhi,” Robert Covington said. “His intensity that he brings to the game, he did exactly that. And you know, he’s going to get his rhythm back and get his feet up under him and everything, and it will take a little bit of time, with training camp and everything. But it’s a long race man.”
Clippers forward Norman Powell played alongside Kawhi Leonard and won an NBA Championship with him in 2019. He’ll also be getting a chance to reunite with Leonard on the NBA hardwood Monday night.
“He looks good,” Powell said. “I think it’ll take a while for him to fully get his footing and step back but he looks good. You can’t tell that he hasn’t played since the Utah series so I’m excited for him to get some games under his belt preseason, get some of that rust off five-on-five and we’re looking for a big year from him.”
While the Clippers are bringing essentially their entire roster from last season back, they do have one major addition. John Wall is the lone Clippers player to join the team this past offseason, and he’s already hyped to get out there with the ‘Fun Guy.’
Here’s some of Kawhi Leonard’s warm ups before today’s Clippers practice.
He’s expected to make his return from a 15+ month absence from the NBA court tomorrow vs. the Blazers.
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) October 2, 2022
“I think it’s exciting man,” Wall explained. “I get to come back and play, it’s not really too much for me to do, just go out there and play my game and Kawhi’s coming back so I think it’s going to be fun.”
Kawhi Leonard’s injury eventually derailed the Clippers’ NBA Championship hopes in the 2021 postseason, but Paul George gave the team and its fanbase serious hope following both of his Game 5 heroics against the Jazz in the Conference semifinals and against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
Safe to say George is beyond ecstatic to get to share the court with his brother once again.
“I’m real excited,” Paul George said. “I’m more excited, obviously, with him being healthy. That’s first and foremost. I seen his whole work throughout the whole [recovery] — the second he got injured to the work he put in this off-season, going into this season.
“Really excited for him to get a chance to do what he loves to do and get back on the court. Obviously after that, it’s the excitement of getting to play with the best two-way player in the game.”
Clippers teammate Brandon Boston Jr. kept it short when discussing what he’s seen from Kawhi.
“He’ll be back.” Boston told ClutchPoints during training camp. “He looked good, he’s moving good, he’s feeling good.”
Terance Mann came into the league the same time Kawhi Leonard joined the Clippers, so his path to playing time and a consistent role has certainly been rocky. He’s made the most of a tough situation, however, and carved out a role that’s borderline pivotal on a championship team.
Kawhi Leonard’s work ethic — both before and after his ACL injury — is his form of leadership, and it’s something Mann has certainly picked up on.
“Like I will always say, it’s his work ethic,” Terance Mann gushed. “That’s how he leads, he leads by example and it’s obvious, he’s in there every day working on his game no matter if he had 40 that night or if he had two or no matter if he’s coming back from injury. His work ethic stays the exact same so it’s pretty dope to watch, real inspiring.”
For those who wanted more, here’s nearly 2 minutes of Kawhi Leonard’s off-the-dribble jumpers before Clippers practice today pic.twitter.com/z2uz5SBNv9
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) September 27, 2022
Nicolas Batum noted the excitement Leonard was practicing with throughout camp as one of the main reasons to look forward to his return.
“It’s been a while,” Batum noted. “You really see his interest to play basketball again. Rehab is not easy, it’s not fun, and he said that yesterday too. I mean, it’s just good to see him on the court shooting and pretty soon playing basketball games with us. To have a guy like that back, one of the best players in the world, one of the best player in the league, it’s gonna be good for us.”
The league’s leading three-point shooter in Luke Kennard is someone surely to benefit from the open looks and attention that Kawhi Leonard is expected to attend.
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“He looks like Kawhi and getting better,” Luke Kennard added. “He’s getting his rhythm back and he looks like he hasn’t missed a day. I’ve been playing with him a little bit out there and it’s been a lot of fun.
Marcus Morris, the league’s third best three-pointer from the 2020-21 season, isn’t with the team due to the birth of his child. He was with the team in Seattle for the first of their two games, but left prior to Sunday’s practice at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus.
Prior to his departure, he also expressed his is thrill to have Kawhi Leonard back in action.
“K (Kawhi) coming back is going to be special for the Clippers, and also PG,” Morris said. “We haven’t talked enough about what P (Paul) has done in the summer. He dealt with a lot of injuries last year, and I’m excited to have them both back. I think it’s going to be a special year for us. I know they’re excited. I know K is ready to go and P is ready to go.”
One quick look at social media posts involving Kawhi Leonard and you’ll notice everyone talking about how much bulkier he looks, and the star has admitted to putting on some muscle in the last year plus that he’s been out.
Head coach Tyronn Lue says Leonard usually comes into camp a bit bulky and loses some weight as the season progresses. This offseason was a little different and it certainly shows.
“I think in the three years I’ve been here, he’s come into camp pretty big and then he loses 12-15 pounds during the season so I think with all the rehab and all the lifting, he’s gonna bulk up. He’s in shape, not a lot of body fat, you know what I’m saying, but he is big. Big as hell, actually.”
“I think with all the rehab and all the lifting, he’s gonna bulk up. He’s in shape, not a lot of body fat, you know what I’m saying, but he is big. Big as hell, actually.”
Tyronn Lue on Clippers star Kawhi Leonard bulking up 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/Y6SeAJKf9v
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) September 28, 2022
The Clippers and Trail Blazers game is set to tip off at 7:30PM PST and will be airing on KTLA. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Norman Powell, John Wall, Reggie Jackson, and Nicolas Batum are all expected to make their preseason debuts in the game.