The return of Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard is one of the biggest question marks in the NBA heading into the offseason.
The Clippers have said there is no timetable for Leonard’s return, and the team was noncommittal when speaking of his injury throughout the playoffs. L.A. announced in a press release that Leonard had undergone successful surgery to repair a “partially torn” ACL, but now, one orthopedic surgeon is questioning whether the Clippers superstar had more extensive surgery based on his injury.
Orthopedic Surgeon on Leonard’s Injury: ‘I Believe He Had ACL Reconstruction’
Dr. David Chao — who is known on Twitter as the Pro Football Doc — spent 17 seasons as a team doctor for the then-San Diego Chargers in the NFL. He is part of the team at OASIS in San Diego, where he specializes in and treats orthopedic sports injuries, specifically working with myriad athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.
Chao is known on Twitter for watching videos of athletes sustaining their injuries and immediately assessing and — far more often than not — correctly surmising and identifying the injury. Chao recently discussed Leonard’s ACL tear on The Morning After, and he’s under the impression it’s a tad worse than some have said it is.
“Call it a repair, call it partial, call it whatever it is — I believe he had an ACL reconstruction no different than for a complete tear. That’s my belief,” Chao said. “On the video all along, I thought the best case scenario was a particular ACL tear with a bone bruise, and that’s why I was very, always pessimistic about his ability to return this season.”
Chao also noted that Kawhi will very likely miss the entire next season.
“At this point, I think you have to expect that Kawhi Leonard will not be there for the start of the season, will miss a good portion of the season at least,” Chao added. “It is hard to return to basketball after an ACL reconstruction. See: Derek Rose. We don’t have Adrian Petersons as the norm because it’s a two-way sport in the way it’s played, etcetera. I would not be surprised if he ended up missing all of the next season, especially given the timing.”
Initial Reports Had Kawhi Slated for January or February Return
In another opinion different than Chao’s, Dr. Michael S. George of the KSF Orthopaedic Center in Houston offered this take to NBA.com:
“After surgery, extensive rehab is necessary with a gradual increase in activity from walking to running, and then finally cutting and pivoting activities at four to six months. This rehab will extend into the beginning of next season with a return to NBA competition likely in January or February if he has a typical recovery schedule.”
George also said this, in a far more optimistic take than Chao had:
“Once he’s fully recovered, he would be expected to return to his full activity level, although history shows that there may be a gradual decline in games played and in-game performance. That being said, Leonard has displayed his extraordinary resilience before, as he recovered from a severe quadriceps injury and then went on to win the NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors. And so he certainly could do it again and regain his All-Star form after this setback as well.”
Leonard put up an average of 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the playoffs this year, and he finished the regular season averaging 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists, shooting 51.4% from the floor. He has a player option for next season, and he has a decision to make: He can opt out and be looking at a deal in the four-year, $176 million range and stay with the Clips. Another option? He could opt in, which would put him at a $36 million salary for next season. He could then sign an extension that would look something like $185 million over four years.
His knee injury shouldn’t affect the number of teams sure to be interested in a player of his talents, but when he’ll be ready to see action again is already being debated by the experts. We’ll see how it unfolds.