Just don’t expect him to be on the floor for the first preseason games.
Coach Doc Rivers said Monday that Leonard is likely to miss both exhibitions this week in Hawaii, where the team is holding training camp. Asked if Leonard would play in Hawaii, Rivers responded, “Yeah, if you’re at a practice. I’ll answer it that way and I’ll let you figure it out from there.”
If Leonard sits in street clothes while the Clippers face the Houston Rockets on Thursday and the Shanghai Sharks on Sunday at Honolulu’s Stan Sheriff Center, it will be for reasons specific to Leonard. The two-time NBA Finals MVP has a history of leg injuries, and the Clippers are seeking to limit the mileage on him out of precaution.
The Clippers’ other All-Star forward, Paul George, is out for the entire preseason and more as he recovers from surgeries on both shoulders. George is expected to return in early to mid-November.
Rivers said Leonard could be part of a larger preseason trend of teams protecting superstars in the same way NFL teams limit their starters’ preseason repetitions. Houston’s Russell Westbrook reportedly will not play in his team’s first two preseason games either.
Rivers heard about the idea over dinner this summer with Jared Goff, when the Rams quarterback told Rivers he hadn’t thrown a pass in a single preseason game.
“I have a feeling that the NBA will be following in those footsteps,” Rivers said. “Not to that extreme, but maybe.”
Even if neither George nor Leonard plays in the preseason, the Clippers will have plenty of time to gauge how they play with each other because both are expected to keep practicing. Leonard and George both took part in non-contact drills Monday and Rivers offered positive reviews. Leonard’s conditioning “looks pretty darn good,” Rivers said.
“You don’t just forget Kawhi Leonard’s on the floor,” guard Landry Shamet said. “He’s talking to a couple small groups of us a couple times throughout practice, just little tidbits, what he’s thinking in his mind. When he’s on the floor, he’s Kawhi Leonard. You feel him.”
Rivers was even more effusive regarding George’s recovery.
“When you watch him, you’d never know he’s injured,” Rivers said. “That’s how good he looks. He shoots. He’s dunking, which they told him he couldn’t do and he did it two or three times. Someone had to tell him, ‘Don’t do that.’ But he knows he can. He’s shooting it and you can tell all the strength is back for sure.
“I think we can live with the dunks. What we can’t live with is him playing, like him trying to sneak into action, which he clearly was trying. We’re just not going to allow it. Could he? Honestly, he probably could. But we’re just not going to have it.”