Kawhi Leonard and Paul George remain at center of Clippers’ future, team exec says

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, watches from the bench during the first half.
Injured Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, watches from the bench during Game 4 against the Phoenix Suns on April 22. Injuries played a key role in the Clippers’ first-round exit.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Two days after the Clippers’ season ended in a first-round postseason loss with stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George injured yet again, their top basketball executive said the team’s future still revolves around the duo and also praised coach Tyronn Lue.

“Injuries suck,” Lawrence Frank said Thursday.

Yet the team’s president of basketball operations quickly added that he did not want the effect of the injuries “to mask a disappointing regular season,” voicing as much frustration with the season’s ultimate result as the team’s day-to-day process.

Noting the past 28 NBA championships have been won by a top-three seed, Frank said the regular season must matter more to the Clippers and that “all of us, starting with me, we can compete harder every day.”


The Clippers are a championship team when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard play together. But they’re rarely together. It’s time to break up the band.

April 26, 2023

The team entered the season talking openly of its championship expectations but not even a week into the regular season George was already criticizing the team’s lack of practice intensity. At season’s end the Clippers needed three consecutive wins to earn the Western Conference’s fifth seed and avoid the play-in tournament. One of those wins, against an overmatched Portland roster, wasn’t secured until the final seconds, and afterward Leonard said that “we just needed more urgency in the game.”

“We have to be honest with ourselves and we have to look in the mirror,” Frank said in his season-ending news conference. “It starts with me and we have to get back to honoring and respecting the regular season. We have to compete harder, more consistently and we have to earn it.”

Their stars’ lack of availability because of injuries or the team’s approach of managing their workloads complicated how much continuity the Clippers could build, with Leonard and George playing 38 games together, with a 24-14 record, and 142 total games in four seasons. They last played a playoff game on June 14, 2021.

George sprained his knee in late March and wouldn’t have been cleared until early May, Frank said. Leonard missed the last three games of the first-round loss to Phoenix with a torn meniscus, a diagnosis the team learned of after Game 2. Leonard’s latest injury occurred in the same knee in which he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in 2021, and Frank said that Leonard’s ACL is “intact.”

The Clippers’ season ended with a first-round loss to Phoenix. Now they face questions concerning Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Tyronn Lue and more.

April 26, 2023

Whether Leonard will opt for surgery to repair the meniscus has yet to be decided, but “regardless of the treatment, Kawhi will be ready for next year,” Frank said.

George, on Tuesday, voiced frustration with the injuries while also expressing optimism that the team could still reach its ultimate, championship goals, and that he and Leonard have productive years still ahead of them. Frank echoed those stances, saying they will remain the focal point of the Clippers’ championship pursuit next season.


“You look at the total minutes that those two have played together and where we’re at, it’s at the highest of the high levels,” Frank said. “And so that’s what gives me great optimism with both those guys, that with a little luck and surrounding them … with players that fit them that we’re going to be able to achieve our goals.”

Leonard and George can opt out of their contracts after the 2023-24 season and become free agents. Leonard, on July 12, and George, on Sept. 1, will be eligible for contract extensions up to four years and $220 million each. Asked whether the team will offer those extensions Frank did not explicitly answer yes, but called the wings “great partners, and we want to keep them as Clippers for a long time.”

“When you study past NBA champions, they have a top-five guy in their team and Kawhi has shown that when healthy he can be the best player in the world,” Frank said. “Paul is [an] eight-time all-star now. So we’re going to continue to build around those guys and look for every which way and just like they do.”

Clippers star Paul George, who has not played since late March, said Tuesday in Phoenix that his rehab from injury is a six-week process.

April 25, 2023

His stars’ lack of availability often left Lue frustrated, leading many within the league to question his desire to return as coach for a fourth season. Lue said Tuesday he expected to be the Clippers’ coach again.

“Why wouldn’t he be back? Of course he’s back,” Frank said. “So I mean Ty’s a terrific coach and we’re excited to have him as our coach.”

With Leonard and George at the core of their plans, the Clippers will need to be creative in finding upgrades around them. The league’s new collective bargaining agreement levies punitive penalties against top-spending teams that spend more than $17.5 million above the luxury tax line — a class that would include the Clippers under owner Steve Ballmer. Frank said the team would like to re-sign point guard Russell Westbrook and center Mason Plumlee, who are both set to be free agents, and Eric Gordon, whose contract isn’t guaranteed until late June.


“We’re blessed to have a chairman who’s all in to try to capitalize on the window we’re in,” Frank said. “At the same time, it’s our job to be responsible and make responsible decisions.”