Kawhi Leonard participated in full-contact portions of practice for the first time as a Clipper on Wednesday, the team’s third day of training camp, but is remaining careful about his workload.
“Everything is going great right now,” Leonard said. “I just don’t want to push it over the top or go on an uphill incline right now with this being my first three days.”
Coach Doc Rivers agreed the forward looked “great” while taking part in half of the team’s live drills during an early afternoon practice at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center.
What that means for the timing of Leonard’s season debut is unclear. Asked whether he has an expectation for when he might take part in a full practice or game, he said he was “taking it day by day and just working things out.”
“It’s pretty much right now just trying to judge,” he said. “We all know what we’re trying to do at the end of the year, what the expectations are for ourselves.”
Leonard finished last season with the second NBA championship of his career but also did not appear fully healthy during stretches of the NBA Finals. After signing with the Clippers as a free agent in July, he took part in some, but not all, of the team’s offseason workouts and was limited to noncontact drills during the first two days of practice.
The status of Leonard’s All-Star teammate, Paul George, who is recovering from surgeries to each of his shoulders, has not changed. George continues to be limited to noncontact drill work.
“We definitely have an itch to get out there,” Leonard said. “That’s what we do so we love to do it. Just sitting out there you get bored.”
Though Leonard will sit out Thursday’s preseason opener against the Houston Rockets he will be watching with keen interest. Though familiar with some of his surroundings during training camp — previous visits here have made him a fan of Leonard’s Bakery, a Honolulu institution famous for its light, airy doughnuts known as malasadas — he is still in the process of understanding where he fits within a Clippers system that Rivers said is being partially tailored around the skill sets of the team’s star duo.
“Basically learning, seeing what Doc is calling at certain times,” Leonard said. “His side out of bounds plays he’s calling, seeing what we’re going to do off our makes and misses and just going from there.”
Said Rivers: “You try to figure out what your guys do best and build that around them. It becomes their system, really. But you need cooperation. You do. On both sides. And we all have to figure it out.”
While Leonard and George have watched much of training camp from the sidelines, rookie Terance Mann and second-year guard Landry Shamet have impressed on the court as ballhandlers. The team does not have a pure point guard on its roster, a need that might not be drastic considering how much of the offense figures to eventually flow through Leonard and George. But both Shamet and Mann have played the position and are expected to fill the role of distributor at times.
The 48th selection in the NBA draft, Mann has worked with the team’s second unit. Shamet has stuck primarily with the starting lineup alongside guards Patrick Beverley and Rodney McGruder, forward Maurice Harkless and center Ivica Zubac.
“Landry will play point a lot this year,” Rivers said. “There’s no doubt about that because he can do a lot of things that very few guys can do, you know a [Stephen] Curry. Like he can push it up, throw it and run and still score. That’s pretty good.”