Drooling over Kawhi’s return

LA Clippers broadcaster Brian Sieman said Kawhi Leonard was “salivating” as the superstar forward initiated a series of powerful between-the-legs dribbles in his preseason debut.

Jusuf Nurkic was guarding him about 25 feet from the basket. And Leonard, in his first shot attempt in an NBA game since June 2021, drained a line-drive 3-pointer; an apt welcome back to professional basketball.

Sieman’s call may have best summarized the entirety of a starving fan base. They watched very real title hopes sink away 16 months ago when Leonard tore his right ACL in the final quarter of the Clippers’ Game 4 victory over the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals. They watched a gritty team win more than half of their games in Leonard’s absence last season. They watched. And waited.

The waiting was finally over Monday night at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. The Clippers upended the Trail Blazers, 102-97, in their second exhibition game, but the result mattered far less than everything else that took place.

Leonard played 16 minutes, scored 11 points, and seemed to relish the chance to take the final step in his rehab process.

“For me it felt great to be back on the floor after all these months, and finally put all this hard work to test,” he said postgame.

He also shared the floor with newcomer John Wall, who is coming off a lost season in the doldrums of a Houston Rockets rebuild. Wall, making his Clippers preseason debut, scored 5 points with 3 assists in 13 minutes off the bench.

“John is super excited to be on the court,” Leonard said. “I’m happy that he got a chance to play as well. He’s only going to make us better. He’s been great at practice and a good leader.”

How Wall is used going forward could shape shift, much like the rest of the Clippers roster. Even without Marcus Morris, who missed the game due to the birth of his second child, and Terance Mann (rest), the Clippers were seemingly too deep for their own good. They ran out 10 potential high-end rotation players and that’s without counting youngsters Brandon Boston and Moussa Diabate, who snared 11 rebounds and showed some of his defensive prowess was not reserved merely for Summer League.

Morris will certainly play, and likely start. Mann should play a lot, and likely will. So, how does Ty Lue fit a dozen guys in a regular rotation… even with an element of load management?

Right now, it’s likely:

Ivica Zubac, Morris, Leonard, George, Reggie Jackson
Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, Mann, Norman Powell, Wall

That indicates one of the league’s top 3-point shooters in Luke Kennard and a versatile, young wing in Amir Coffey are saddled with garbage time appearances and DNPs.

It will be both quite a balancing act, and a great problem to have. Two weeks from opening night, we are all salivating.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x