Kawhi Leonard made his return to basketball in a pre-season game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, and while there was some expected rust, he looked quick and decisive.
All throughout training camp, Leonard’s teammates spoke about how good he looks, with certain players declaring he looks even better than he did before.
“Kawhi. He looks like Kawhi,” Robert Covington said with a smile. Luke Kennard had a similar answer, saying Leonard looks, “Like Kawhi, and maybe even better.” These declarations from his teammates were exciting, and now that everyone has seen it for themselves, it seems the hype was warranted.
Leonard himself shared his excitement to be back on the floor, expressing a real sense of gratitude for the opportunity to do so.
“It was great,” Leonard said when asked about playing for the first time in over a year. “Just being able to put all that hard work that I did throughout the 14, 16 months, just able to put it to test. You know, play against NBA talent. It was good, you know, just being out there with the guys, talking, I missed it. It was a great experience for me.”
What Leonard’s return means for the Clippers
While Leonard’s return obviously means the Clippers are getting one of the best players in basketball back, it also means several key players will return to roles they are more fit for.
Because Leonard was out all of last season, and his co-star Paul George was out most of last season, several players were forced into roles far greater than they were ever supposed to fill.
Norman Powell, despite his short stint with the Clippers last season, was one of these players who found himself in a larger role last year than he will this year. When asked what this experience will do for himself and his teammates, Powell said, “I think it’s gonna take us to the next level. PG and [Kawhi] make the game easier for everybody else with the attention that they draw. The thing that’s so great about this team, is that all of us draw a lot of attention in the different things we do and how we attack. So I think playing off of each other is gonna make the game easy for all of us.”
Players like Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris, and others all found themselves in major roles last season without Leonard and George.
If the Clippers remain healthy, each of these players will be placed in a more optimal role, focused on maximizing their strengths. This is what Norman Powell meant when he said last year’s experience will take the Clippers to a new level. While Kawhi alone will elevate the team, the experience they gained without him last year cannot be overlooked.
With their 2021 Western Conference Finals appearance so far being their peak, all of the dynamics working for the Clippers this season have them primed for the best season in franchise history.