Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard said Monday his serious knee injury was a big factor in why he signed a long-term deal with the club instead of a shorter option.
Leonard partially tore the ACL in his right knee June 14 during the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz. He missed the remainder of the postseason and underwent surgery July 13.
A few weeks after the procedure, Leonard declined his $36 million option for the 2021-22 season and became a free agent. But due to the uncertainty of when he would be able to play again, Leonard opted to sign a four-year, $176.3 million with the Clippers as opposed to a one-year deal with a one-year option.
Leonard will make $39.3 million this season even if he doesn’t play a single minute.
Though there is no timetable for his return, Leonard said the possibility of playing this season factored in the decision-making process.
“Because I wanted to play,” Leonard said at the team’s media day. “I mean, the best situation for me was to do it one-and-one and then opt out and sign a long-term five-year deal. But there’s a lot of concerns that that brings up for you guys and your job, and it creates storylines that I’m going to leave the team (after one year).
“I wanted to secure some money, and I wanted to be able to come back if I was able to this year. If I would have took the one-and-one, I probably would have not played (this season) just to be cautious and opted out and took a five-year.”
Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Friday that “no one knows” the timetable for Leonard’s return.
The 30-year-old Leonard didn’t shed any light on that either.
“Just day-to-day,” Leonard said. “Just working with the staff day-to-day, and then when that available date comes, we’ll be ready for it, and it’ll be out in the public.”
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue is more interested in Leonard being back in top form when he returns.
“We don’t want to force him or put any pressure on him,” Lue said Monday. “We want to make sure he’s rehabbing, doing everything he can to get back as soon as possible, and if that’s next season, that’s next season.
“We don’t want to force him to come back too early. We want to make sure he’s 100 percent when he does come back.”
Leonard is entering his third season with the Clippers. He averaged 27.1 points in 57 games his first season and 24.8 points in 52 games last season.
Overall, Leonard is averaging 19.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 10 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs (2011-18), Toronto Raptors (2018-19) and Clippers.
Leonard is a two-time NBA Finals MVP — winning the award with the Spurs in 2014 and Raptors in 2019.
–Field Level Media
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