Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard ‘probably not going to come back’ this season

Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard look on from the bench.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard looks on from the bench during a game between the Clippers and Utah Jazz on Dec. 15. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue downplayed the prospects of Leonard playing for the Clippers this season.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

A month after describing “optimism” surrounding a possible return by injured forward Kawhi Leonard this season, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue cast doubt Thursday on such a comeback by saying “we know Kawhi’s probably not going to come back” following the Clippers’ 111-110 victory against the Lakers.

Lue also confirmed a Turner Sports report that Paul George is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his right elbow on Feb. 24, almost two months to the day since he tore his ulnar collateral ligament and began a program of rest.

“I hope he’s feeling good,” Lue said of George. “I don’t know, but things can change — just something to look forward to. Hope is stronger than fear.”

Leonard underwent surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament July 13. Surgeons experienced in ACL reconstructions said that the most common window for a return is between nine and 12 months, though quicker recoveries are also not uncommon for professional athletes. That timing has made a return this season tricky all along, with the nine-month mark falling as the regular-season ends in mid-April — but Leonard himself stoked the possibility of seeing in him uniform again this spring by saying in September that he was approaching this season with the intent of returning if he was healthy enough.


The Lakers erase a 17-point deficit in the second half to take a pair of one-point leads late before Reggie Jackson gives the Clippers a 111-110 win.

Lue’s comment stemmed from a question about why he believed his team, without its pair of All-Stars in Leonard and George, was special in producing a 27-27 record. The win kept the Clippers in eighth in the Western Conference standings, 2 1/2 games behind the sixth-place spot that would keep them out of the play-in rounds.

“I think the biggest thing is with Kawhi being out all year, and PG not knowing what’s gonna happen with PG, the hardest thing for players, when your best two players are out — when you hear Kawhi’s gonna be out for a week or three days, you can muster that energy up, you can find a way to win games and continue to come in every single day and have positive vibes,” Lue said. “But the enjoyment I get from this team, we know Kawhi’s probably not gonna come back, we don’t know the status of PG, but these guys continue to keep fighting, every single night.

“And so that’s kind of how I had to play, that’s how I had to make it, so just seeing how these guys scrap and compete every single night, just makes me feel good — that’s the enjoyment I get from coaching this team.”

Asked to clarify his comment about Leonard, Lue said he was “not a doctor” while reiterating that “hope is stronger than fear.”

“So I’m hoping that these two guys can come back,” Lue said, before leaving his postgame news conference. “But, you know, you never know. So that’s all I got to say, man.”

Bill Fitch, whose 25-year career as an NBA head coach ended with a four-season stint leading the Clippers in the 1990s, died Wednesday at 89.

Center Serge Ibaka, who won a championship with Leonard in Toronto in 2019, then followed to him in Los Angeles one year later, said that Leonard has worked hard during his rehab.

“I know Kawhi, he loves this game and he’s going to try to do his best he can to be back strong and he be working so hard, actually it is impressive to see the way he has been working,” Ibaka said. “He’s getting stronger. I know he want to come back but it’s just a question of time.”

George watched Thursday’s victory at Arena from the Clippers’ bench. One of his close friends, Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, said that George was in a good place mentally despite sitting the last 20 games. Surgery to repair the injury George suffered is the exception among basketball players, who typically rest for between six-to-eight weeks before ramping up their return to the court.

“Hopefully they both can come back this year,” forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. “But if not, we are going to keep [pushing] on, and we get ready to make a run and then next year when they get back, we do another push. I am excited for both of them. The rehab is going well for both of them. If we get them back, that is going to be great.”