Kawhi Leonard on the verge of returning for Clippers, but will he be the same?

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard dribbles during a preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, shown in an October preseason game, is listed as questionable for Thursday night’s game against Detroit.
(Raul Romero Jr. / Associated Press)

Kawhi Leonard is on the verge of a return after the Clippers upgraded the status of their All-Star wing to questionable to play Thursday against Detroit.

Leonard has not played since Oct. 23, missing all but two of the team’s first 15 games en route to an 8-7 record.


5:48 p.m. Nov. 17, 2022Kawhi Leonard will start Thursday against the Detroit Pistons, the team announced.

After surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in July 2021 and missing all of last season, Leonard shouldered high expectations entering this season, with the Clippers planning to slowly build up his tolerance for his typical workload of around 30 minutes per game. That plan even took on unexpected shape when Leonard, a starter for virtually the last nine years, played off of the bench during his first two appearances of the season as the Clippers were wary of sitting him for long stretches and wanted to bundle the minutes he did play in the second, third and fourth quarters.


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That strategy was tested quickly when Leonard experienced stiffness in his knee Oct. 25, after a shootaround in Oklahoma City. He watched from the bench that night but then returned to Los Angeles the next day to resume rehab on the knee. Orthopedic surgeons with experience in ACL reconstructions and the recovery process have described “stiffness” as usually a synonym for swelling, and considered it unexpected for swelling to occur 16 months after a surgery, as happened in Leonard’s case.

In the three weeks since Leonard’s absence began, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has said that Leonard has been frustrated that his health has not allowed him to play. Lue also repeated that Leonard was making incremental progress. Leonard played five-on-five basketball for the first time Nov. 11, though Lue cautioned at the time that though Leonard “looked pretty good,” he still had a ways to go.

And now, Leonard might only have a few more hours to go before his long-awaited return for a team that has struggled to find its consistency and identity in his absence.

Nicolas Batum went seven for seven on three-pointers to help the Clippers rally from a 25-point deficit, but the Dallas Mavericks prevailed 103-101.

Nov. 15, 2022