Clippers Owner Opens Door for Kawhi Leonard Return, Knocks Lakers Fans

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (left) and LeBron James of the Lakers

Getty Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (left) and LeBron James of the Lakers

The question is the biggest one hanging over the Clippers as they enter the 2021-22 season coming off a franchise-best playoff showing that saw the team make its way to the Western Conference finals last season: Is it possible that star forward Kawhi Leonard’s surgically repaired ACL will be ready at some point, ready enough to allow him to play in next year’s playoffs?

Owner Steve Ballmer had an answer–sort of.

“Nobody knows at this stage,” Ballmer said in an interview with USA Today. “Nobody knows. It’s possible. For sure, it’s possible. But it will depend on what the doctors say and what Kawhi says.”

Ballmer did describe the upcoming version of the Clippers as “a very good team,” until Leonard returns from the injury, for which he had surgery in June. The Clippers were able to dispatch of the Jazz in the conference semifinals even after Leonard got hurt, but could not get past the Suns in the West finals.

Ballmer said if the Clippers can get Leonard back, they will be, “a very, very, very, very good team.”

Clippers Leaving Lakers’ Staples Center for Inglewood

Friday marked a big day in Clippers history, which was why Ballmer was so chatty.

The Clippers are hoping to put some distance between themselves and the more popular Lakers by opening a new building—the Intuit Dome—in Inglewood, which broke ground on Friday. The arena is located just south of SoFi Stadium, home of the Rams and Chargers. Ballmer is shelling out almost $2 billion for the arena, according to the team, and it is expected to open for the 2024-25 season.

Considering the team had played in the dilapidated Los Angeles Sports Arena (which had been built in 1959) near the USC campus until 1999, when it became tenants of the Lakers at Staples Center, the new building is an enormous upgrade and a testament to the changes Ballmer brought to the franchise since taking over for disgraced former owner Donald Sterling in 2015.

“We needed to say, ‘We’re our own guys. We don’t play in the same place as the other guys. We’re going to have our own identity,’” Ballmer told ESPN.

Ballmer Says Lakers Fans ‘Feel a Little Threatened’ by Clippers

Ballmer did take the opportunity to needle backers of the Lakers, as so many with the Clippers like to do. The revamped Lakers, with Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and ex-Clipper DeAndre Jordan among their high-profile additions, are favorite in the West.

But the Clippers added guard Eric Bledsoe this offseason, as well as wing Justise Winslow. They were not splashy additions, but both L.A. teams expect to contend.

In an ESPN interview, Ballmer threw some shade at fans of the Lakers, who will soon be crosstown rivals, not cross-Staples rivals:

We’re good now, and we’re going to be good year in and year out. We’re going to build our own building, more of our own identity, more of our own personality. And I think some of the fans on the other side, if you will, it’s like, ‘What? The You dare to question our supremacy?’ No, we do.

There’s 30 teams in the league. There’s 29 others. And we got one that happens to be based in L.A. And we got our fans. We use our expression, ‘LA Our Way.’ And we’re building our own presence, identity. And if the other guys feel a little threatened—the other guys’ fans, I mean; the players are actually a little different deal—but if they feel a little threatened, that’s OK. It means we’re doing good.

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