Kawhi Leonard and Paul George May Be Forcing the Clippers Into a Devastating Reality With Their NBA Title Hopes

The Los Angeles Clippers entered the 2021-22 campaign well aware that Kawhi Leonard may miss the entire season. The Clippers took another monstrous hit with Paul George sitting out indefinitely due to an elbow injury. Those factors cast more doubt around the franchise being more than a playoff contender.

The uncertainty regarding Leonard and George’s recovery timelines forces the Clippers to face a disappointing reality.

Clippers surprisingly acquire Norman Powell and Robert Covington

Amid jocking for a spot in the backend of the Western Conference playoff picture, the Clippers swung a stunning trade.

Los Angeles pulled off the acquisition of Norman Powell and Robert Covington in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, and a 2025 second-round draft pick. Despite salary-cap limitations, the Clippers managed to bring aboard Powell, who has emerged as a rising star talent. Meanwhile, the team added a stable frontcourt piece in Covington, a proven wing defender and 3-point shooter.

Los Angeles sits in the eighth spot with a 27-27 record through the first 54 games. While the move boosts the Clippers’ push toward the playoffs, the franchise faces a potentially stark reality involving their two stars.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s uncertain returns forcing the Clippers to face a devastating reality with their NBA title hopes

The Clippers’ surprising move to acquire Norman Powell demonstrated that the franchise intends to push toward the playoffs.

However, the franchise’s ultimate fate lies in the hands of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George being on the floor to make any NBA title aspirations a realistic possibility.

Lingering doubt remains around George’s recovery as he’s been out since Dec. 22 due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, forcing him to miss the last 22 straight games. The seven-time All-Star will go through an MRI on Feb. 24 to see how his elbow has progressed.

Although the Clippers remain optimistic, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank voiced that he’s uncertain if George will play again this season.

“You don’t treat the MRI, you treat the player,” Frank said via ESPN. “So when the MRI comes in, it’s not a ‘boom’ that all of a sudden is a ‘Eureka’ moment for what we do. I think it’s just part of the process.

“I think it’s you see how Paul is responding. He’s feeling better each and every day. The MRI is another kind of benchmark. … I think the doctors put it all together and that’s how they come to what the next steps are. My expectation is regardless of what the MRI says, it’s just part of it. That’s not going to be the ultimate decision-maker in what happens.”

The conversation is more pessimistic regarding Leonard, as he’s working back from a torn ACL he suffered last June.

“I think the best answer is we don’t know,” Frank said. “He grinds every single day. He works. His focus is on his rehab. No one knows. He doesn’t know. But all you can do is, just every day, continue to control what you can control and see how he responds.”

Much could change in the coming months, but the Clippers have no sense of whether either player will play. Head coach Ty Lue closed the door a bit further, adding that he doesn’t envision Leonard taking the floor until next season.

As much as Los Angeles wants to remain hopeful, the team holds no chance of making a serious title run without their two stars.

Clippers are eyeing a strong push toward the playoffs

The uncertainty surrounding Leonard and George aside, the Clippers possess a gritty roster righting the ship.

Los Angeles lacks the star-power punch, but that hasn’t deflated their efforts. Their collective push led by Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr., and Luke Kennard has put them into the backend of the playoff picture.

Bringing Powell aboard adds another bonafide scorer, further balancing the offense. He will need a couple of weeks to get comfortably ingrained in the game plan, but his presence only strengthens the Clippers’ quest toward securing a postseason berth.

Los Angeles has demonstrated an unwavering internal fortitude exemplified by their handful of comeback wins, highlighted through erasing a 35-point deficit to beat the Washington Wizards last month.

The ceiling may not be high without Leonard and George, but making the playoffs sits as a realistic possibility.

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