After advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time last season, this year has been an up and down struggle for the Clippers with key players in and out of the lineup. Kawhi Leonard hasn’t played a game yet this season after tearing his ACL in the second round of the playoffs against Utah last year. And now the Clippers have learned they could be without their other star player, Paul George, for the remainder of the 2021-22 campaign.
In late December, George suffered a torn elbow ligament and has been sidelined ever since. The Clippers initially announced that he’d be re-evaluated in three to four weeks, but now it sounds like they may be without PG-13 for the rest of the year.
With George’s status now up in the air, Kawhi Leonard’s return should also be pushed onto the back burner until the team knows more about PG’s status. Bleacher Report reported last week that there is a “strong possibility” of Leonard returning to the Clippers roster this season.
Leonard’s return from the ACL injury isn’t likely to change the Clippers’ standing in the West without George on the court. They’re currently in seventh place, tied with the Lakers at 21-21. With George in the lineup, they were able to stay afloat in the top six of the conference through December.
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A Leonard return in March or April won’t be enough to jump-start this team past the top teams in the western conference. Phoenix, Golden State, Memphis, and Utah are all better than the Clippers. Kawhi coming back knocking the rust off over the first couple of weeks won’t be enough for the Clippers to advance in the postseason.
Leonard’s injury history and the fact he’s in no hurry to return until he feels he is 100% healthy are well documented. So, even if Kawhi says he’s ready, the Clippers should sit him down for the year if George can’t return at near 100% this season. So, if it looks like George isn’t going to be back before the end of March, then I’d go ahead and shut both guys down and look to next year.
We;llKevin Durant could have returned from his Achilles injury during the 2019-20 pandemic year once the NBA sent everyone to the Orlando bubble. KD opted not to rush anything and continued sitting until the next season (less than three months later), and he came back at 100 percent and balled out. Leonard is only 30 and in the prime of his career, although sometimes it feels like he’s already 35. When he’s right and mostly healthy, Kawhi is still a top-five player and a pretty damn good two-way player.
Knowing Leonard’s history presents all the more reason for LA to be cautious about his return because we know he will. And if George isn’t returning anytime soon, there really is no reason to press for a Leonard return. The Clippers have no real shot at beating the Suns or Warriors without Kawhi and PG on the court. Depending on the matchup, they might not get out of the first round without both players. I know fans hate hearing this, but both players have a long history of bad injuries at this point, and even pondering rushing either guy back just to get bounced in the first round seems preposterous.
This Clippers squad finally broke through last year and got bit by the injury bug in the process with Leonard going down against Utah. That seems to have carried over into this season with George now being out for an extended period. We should know more about both players in the coming weeks, but if I had to guess I’d say we probably won’t see the Leonard-George tandem again for quite a while. That decision might be what’s best for Ballmer’s business right now.