Amid persistent chatter that he could be ahead of schedule in his potential return to NBA action after having surgery in July to fix a torn ACL, Kawhi Leonard made the trip with the Clippers to San Francisco this week for the team’s opener, a loss to the Warriors.
While it is a far cry from having Leonard on the court—and clearly, the Clippers could have used him against the undefeated Warriors—coach Ty Lue said he appreciates Leonard’s presence.
“It’s been good, just having him around in any capacity has been great,” Lue. “I think it’s been really good for our young guys, always picking our brains, the coaching staff. What do we see, things like that. Just having him around in any capacity has been good for us.”
Along those lines, it’s been a positive to actually see Leonard out on the floor in recent days, though obviously a long way from an actual return. For example, Clippers reporter Justin Russo posted a video this week on Twitter of Leonard working out at practice with third-year Clipper Terance Mann.
And Sports Illustrated’s Farbod Esnaashari reported earlier this month that “multiple sources” say Leonard is ahead of schedule in his rehab from injury.
Kawhi Leonard Earns Spot on NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team
It was also a big week for Leonard in that he was named to the NBA’s 75th anniversary team, which designated the Top 75 players in league history. It was well-earned. In 10 NBA seasons, Leonard has two championships, winning Finals MVP both times, as well as five All-Star appearances, seven All-Defense selections and two Defensive Player of the Year awards.
There were 11 active players chosen to the all-time list: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James, Leonard, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
Lue said he spoke to Leonard, who was the No. 15 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, about the honor.
“I talked to Kawhi about 10 minutes ago about it, I said, ‘Congratulations,’ and that’s huge,” Lue said on Thursday. “I think from being a 15th pick to being Top 75, that means a lot, it’s a tribute to his hard work and dedication and things he has been able to achieve in his career, so just happy for him.”
Ibaka, Batum Out for Opener
Unfortunately for the Clippers, Leonard was not the only player out for the season opener. Center Serge Ibaka is still struggling with back issues that required surgery over the summer, and Nicolas Batum did not make the trip for personal reasons. Rookies Jason Preston and Keon Johnson were out, too.
In Leonard’s absence, the Clippers did get a star performance from Paul George, who has vowed to raise his game as the team’s No. 1 option this season. He logged 29 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, on 12-for-23 shooting. New Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe (who played the first three seasons of his career with the Clips starting in 2010) had 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
Clippers point guard Reggie Jackson, though, struggled, making only four of 19 shots, scoring 11 points. With Leonard out, the bulk of the offensive support George needs will come from Bledsoe and Jackson.