The Clippers’ plan for Kawhi Leonard, as told by Doc Rivers
George traveled to Orlando with the team and told members of the media last week that he feels healthier than he has all season. Leonard, tending to a family matter, arrived a few days after the team and participated in his first practice Monday.
The biggest questions surrounding Leonard were his health. In his first availability with members of the media, Leonard said he’s ready to go.
“I feel good,” Leonard said. “I was able to work out, get strong and prepare for this moment now that we’re in. It’s about to be the first practice today, so I’m excited.”
Throughout the regular season, Leonard sat out at least one half of a back-to-back set. The Clippers are scheduled to play one back-to-back in their seeding games before the playoffs begin, where there shouldn’t be any back-to-backs at all.
Head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t anticipate any limitations for Kawhi Leonard, but did say the Clippers plan to play the long game with their superstars.
“No limits, Kawhi is healthy for the most part,” Rivers told media members Monday. “That still doesn’t mean that we don’t want to maintain him and get him through the first eight games and get ready for the playoffs. We want to be smart about this. Not just for Kawhi; it’s with everybody. But having everybody healthy was more about training camp. I mean, we really did not have a great training camp because we didn’t have enough bodies and enough of our key guys practicing. We have a virtually new team, so we needed our new guys to be on the floor, and we didn’t have that ability to do that. This time, for the most part, we’ll have everybody in.”
The Clippers traded for Paul George as they reached an agreement for Kawhi Leonard on the evening of July 5th. Every move the team has made since then has been made towards building a championship roster around their two stars. They re-signed their core of free agents like Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac, and JaMychal Green. They traded for Marcus Morris, signed Reggie Jackson, and signed Joakim Noah later in the year.
Rivers knows each and every one of those role players is going to be pivotal during this run.
“It’s going to be vital,” said Rivers of the role players. “It’s why we built the team the way we did. You obviously need your stars to win. I don’t think it’s going to be a team that wins starless. Having said that, you need a ton of role players. You need to be able to sustain injuries, and when you can, you still have a chance to win, and that will help our team. It also gives us an opportunity to play different lineups, and that’s something we’ll work on here in the first couple weeks.”
When fully healthy, the Clippers have gone 10-1. When Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both play, the team is 23-8. When Leonard, George, and Patrick Beverley play, the team is 20-5.
Zubac was the only player to play in all 64 of the Clippers’ regular season games. George missed 22 games and Leonard missed 14, but Landry Shamet also missed 17, Patrick Beverley missed 16, JaMychal Green missed nine, and Lou Williams missed four games.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo reportedly suffered aa fractured thumb in a team workout on Sunday night. The injury will cost him six-to-eight weeks for an already shorthanded Lakers team. When asked about how careful the team can be with players as they ramp things back up, Rivers acknowledged risks and rewards of playing, saying injuries are simply part of the game.
“We’re playing basketball, so you’re going to have competitive practices, like every team will, and it happens. Listen, no one is trying to get anyone injured. I guarantee you whatever the Lakers were doing was not to say hey, let’s get someone injured. It just happens. It’s part of sports. Like you can be running down the floor with no one around and you can go down. There’s almost no way to prevent injury other than not playing at all, and if you did that, you’re not going to win.
“You know, listen, every time we have a practice, we’re worried about it. We all are. The whole league is. That’s just the way it is. But you need it to get better. I would say time of practice, that’s something we do monitor. We don’t want to go three hours of all running; that makes no sense to us. But it’s hard to prevent injuries, especially fluke injuries like that.”
Just like they did in the regular season, the Clippers will have a plan in place to keep every player as fresh as possible for the eight seeding game schedule that leads up to the playoffs. They’ll control as much as they can control and try to persevere on their way to win the NBA Championship, but at some point, every team will have to pray for a little luck.