Heat Forced to Change of Free-Agent Plans After Surgery for Top Target

Kawhi Leonard heat

Getty Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers warms up before the start of Game Four of the Western Conference second-round playoff series against Utah Jazz at Staples Center on June 14, 2021.

Miami Heat are working on how to successfully rebuild for next season and they have their heart set on nabbing a third big name to play alongside the core duo that is Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.

There are only a few players for whom the Heat would pull out all the stops to make a deal come to fruition, and at the top of that list is Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard. However, after the Clippers’ press release the five-time All-Star underwent ACL surgery on July 13, the Heat’s laser-focused interest in obtaining Leonard has presumably waned.

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The press release shared Tuesday read: “Kawhi Leonard underwent successful surgery today to repair a partial tear of his right anterior cruciate ligament. There is no timetable for his return.”

While that last sentence sounds grim, Bleacher Report‘s Andy Bailey says such a statement “isn’t unusual for injuries of this magnitude. Given the varied outcomes of a torn ACL throughout sports, it wouldn’t really make sense for the organization to give one.”

However, based on previous players who underwent similar surgeries, Leonard should be expected to miss at least six months. The likelihood is that he’ll miss nine months, but there’s a very good chance he misses the entirety of the 2021-22 NBA season, especially with the league returning to its regular October to June schedule.

With that kind of injury timeline, it’s hard to imagine the Heat shelling out to pay Leonard’s max contract money if he opts out of his $36 million player option with Clippers. Miami is very much in “win now” mode in their journey to bring home a title while Butler, 31, is still in his prime.

Whether or Not Leonard Will Return to Playing at an All-Star Level Remains Unknown

The other gamble of taking on an inactive Leonard is knowing that most players never return to their elite level of play following ACL surgery.

Prior to his latest injury, which took place during Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz, Leonard was easily one of the best two-way players in the NBA.

He finished last season averaging 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. The 30-year-old drilled 51.2% from the field, 39.8% on threes, and 88.5% from the free-throw line.

It was only a few weeks ago that The Ringer‘s Kevin O’Connor, the Heat were planning to “make a hard push to acquire Leonard, league sources say… Who wouldn’t want a 30-year-old two-time Finals MVP still performing at an All-NBA level?”

However, Leonard, who’s already injury prone, and hasn’t played more than 60 regular games in a season over the past four years, is going to be facing a long road to recovery.

Former NBA player Speedy Claxton told HoopsRumors in 2018 of returning to play following an ACL tear, “You probably start to feel like your old self a year-and-a-half after the injury. It’s a long, grueling rehab process and you don’t know if you’re ever going to be the same.”

Leonard to the Heat Would’ve Created a Historic Big 3 in Miami

Kawhi Leonard

GettyKawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers reacts against the Dallas Mavericks in the third quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas.

If the former two-time NBA Finals MVP wants to add a third championship ring to his collection, the odds of making that happen increase ten-fold by joining the Heat if Leonard remained healthy.

“Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler give him two co-stars instead of one, albeit they both turned in lamentable playoff performances this year,” Bleacher Report‘s Dan Favale wrote. “Making it to the conference finals remains easier in the East than the West, so long as you don’t meet the Brooklyn Nets prior to Round 3. Miami is just as desirable a place to live as L.A.”

“Let’s say… that Leonard wants a co-star better than Playoff P, someone closer to Regular Season P, but in the postseason,” Favale continued. “Let’s then assume that Los Angeles is unable to materially upgrade the roster within its financial constraints, and that Leonard is willing to shop around, and that Miami doesn’t mind missing out on other free agents while lusting after this pie-in-the-sky play.
The Heat, in that scenario, make a lot of sense.”

READ NEXT: Proposed Trade Lands Miami Heat With Underrated Magic Guard: B/R

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