Los Angeles Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard was having a stellar 2021 playoffs before suffering a right knee injury against the Utah Jazz on June 14. The two-time champion didn’t return to the lineup for the remainder of the postseason, and the Clippers fell short of their goal of winning a title.
Leonard can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason if he declines his 2021-22 player option. Whichever team he plays for next season will be getting one of the best players in the league. However, he could miss the entire 2021-22 campaign.
Kawhi Leonard underwent ACL surgery
On July 13, the Clippers announced that Leonard underwent successful surgery to repair a partial tear of his right ACL. There is no timetable for his return, but the two-time Finals MVP could miss the entire 2021-22 season since ACL recoveries take a long time.
Leonard has a well-documented injury history. He only played in nine games during the 2017-18 season with the San Antonio Spurs due to a quad injury and has dealt with tendinitis in his knees. The five-time All-Star has never played all 82 games in a season, and that will once again be the case in 2021-22.
It’s puzzling why Leonard underwent his ACL surgery nearly a month after sustaining the injury. The Clippers treated the injury mysteriously by never ruling their superstar out for the playoffs.
Leonard has a player option worth $36 million for the 2021-22 season. Some fans believe he will pick it up after undergoing ACL surgery. However, since FS1’s Skip Bayless reported a month ago that Leonard would need surgery, maybe the first part of his report is correct too.
Skip Bayless said Kawhi Leonard was unhappy with the Clippers
On June 25, Bayless said he heard from a source that Leonard was unhappy with the Clippers’ medical staff. He also stated that the two-time Defensive Player of the Year would need surgery, which turned out to be true.
“I have been told by a very good source that the first issue became Kawhi was unhappy with the Clippers medical staff because he felt that they early on misdiagnosed and underplayed the extent of this knee injury,” Bayless said. “What does that smack of? What does that remind you of? San Antonio all over again. I keep telling you I have tried to forgive him for San Antonio, and I have, but I haven’t forgotten it because that was a long hard year. Kawhi Leonard is his own man. We know this. Once he gets a little sideways with medical staff, he’s going to pull away. He’s going to go to this doctor and that physical therapist away from the team. I was also told, as I told you from day 1 when this happened, he’s gone. He’s going to need some type of surgery.”
If Bayless was correct about Leonard needing surgery, he might also be right about the swingman being upset with the Clippers’ medical staff. There are rumors that the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks will pursue Leonard if he becomes a free agent. However, those reports came out before the Clippers announced the ACL surgery.
Will teams be hesitant to pursue star after ACL surgery?
Leonard is unquestionably one of the top players in the NBA. He averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in 2020-21. However, since he will turn 31 in 2022 and could potentially miss a bulk — if not all — of the 2021-22 season, teams could be hesitant to pursue or offer him a max contract should he enter free agency.
It would probably make sense for Leonard to pick up his player option and focus on his rehab next season. If he’s able to come back for the 2022 playoffs — should the Clippers make it — he could use the postseason to remind everyone how stellar he is and then cash in on a big contract in the summer of 2022.
It will be fascinating to see what Leonard does this summer. If he enters free agency, it would certainly be a shock to many since he’s coming off ACL surgery. However, if Bayless’ reporting is correct, Leonard could be looking to leave the Clippers after two years due to their medical staff.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.