The Los Angeles Clippers continue a strong push toward vying for an NBA championship, but without Kawhi Leonard as he sits sidelined indefinitely due to a knee injury. Leonard’s extended absence has brought forth questions concerning his long-term future. All that has also led ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to make a strong stance regarding the star forward’s fate in Los Angeles.
Kawhi Leonard’s injury struggles continue to persist
The Clippers are moving through the deepest playoff run in franchise history, but it’s come with Leonard sidelined.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP has missed the last seven contests since hurting his knee in Game 4 of the second-round series against the Utah Jazz. Los Angeles has kept the injury details private, but The Athletic‘s Sham Charania suggested the team fears he’s suffered an ACL injury.
All that has put an indefinite timetable for his return, placing more pressure on Paul George and the rest of the roster to pick up the slack. The uncertain situation has also led one prominent media member to make a drastic suggestion to the Clippers.
Stephen A. Smith voices a surprising take about Kawhi Leonard’s future with the Clippers
As Leonard remains out of the lineup, the Clippers are pushing toward NBA title contention.
Los Angeles currently holds an uphill battle with a 3-2 series deficit against the Suns. However, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith stated after Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, he’s starting to believe it may be in the franchise’s best interest to move on from the star forward.
“Let me be clear about something. Kawhi Leonard is a top-five talent in this game. He is elite,” Smith said via Tomer Azarly of ClutchPoints. “But when you take into account the load management, when you take into account that his personality doesn’t actually gravitate toward leadership. Then you combine that with the fact that he’s not necessarily reliable, at least this postseason.
“He hasn’t gotten any younger or what have you. You look at the elevation of Terrence Mann, this second-year player, who clearly is not on Kawhi’s level, but if you look at the athleticism, the youth, the fervor, the “want it” mentality… and you’re talking about building a culture then I’m sorry. I think that it’s something that [Steve] Balmer and the crew have to think about the long term.”
Leonard’s absence during the most critical stretch of the season only hampers the Clippers’ championship bid. Without a timetable for a return, the team is without its best player. All that only further underlines the chronic health issues that have dogged him the last several years.
Meanwhile, it has opened the door for Terance Mann to step into a prominent role. Mann scored a playoff career-high 39 points in the series-clinching Game 6 win over the Utah Jazz. Although his production has fluctuated in the Western Conference Finals, he’s shooting 55.9% from the floor and 36.7% from 3-point range.
With Leonard likely opting out of the $36 million player option next season, things will quickly take shape this upcoming summer.
Paul George may be the key to the Clippers’ future
For as much slack George received since joining the Clippers, he’s become the beacon for the team’s continued playoff success.
He’s shed the “Pandemic P” nickname behind his strong showing this year’s postseason. George experienced low moments of missing critical free throws late in Game 2 and Game 4 of the Western Conference, but his offensive production remains elite.
The 31-year-old is averaging 27.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists on 44.3% shooting from the floor. According to SportsCenter, George joined Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan as the only players to notch at least 20 points in his first 18 games of a single playoff run.
He’s taken it up a notch in the Western Conference Finals, averaging 30.2 points, while his 41-point outing in Game 5 kept the Clippers’ championship chances alive. Regardless of how the Clippers’ postseason run unfolds, George has solidified himself as the long-term piece the franchise can build around.
Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.