In the latest episode of the HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto said the Clippers remain focused on being competitive when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard get back on the floor.
However, despite a recent report stating that Leonard is ahead of schedule in his rehab from an ACL tear, Scotto has heard that some people within the organization believe the star forward is unlikely to return this season. Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report echoes that sentiment, writing that there’s a “healthy dose of skepticism” around the NBA about Leonard playing in 2021/22.
“He’s always played things methodically and cautiously,” a source with knowledge of Leonard’s thinking told Fischer. “I knew he was ahead of schedule [in his rehab], but I wouldn’t bet on it. Kawhi is always focused on the long term. If they’re not in the playoff picture, I think the chances he comes back are slim to none.”
Fischer also shared an ominous update on George, writing that the Clippers are prepared for the possibility that the forward’s elbow injury will keep him sidelined far beyond the three-to-four week timeline the team initially announced for a reevaluation. It’s not out of the question that George’s injury could keep him out of action for the rest of the season, according to Fischer.
If the Clippers believe there’s a chance George and Leonard may both be unavailable for the rest of the season, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll pivot to becoming sellers at the deadline, Fischer adds.
Here’s more on the team from both Scotto and Fischer:
- Following Leonard’s ACL tear in the 2021 playoffs, the Clippers’ front office broached the possibility of treating the 2021/22 season as more of a “gap year” before pushing again for a title in ’22/23, and owner Steve Ballmer was on board with that idea, Fischer says. The team didn’t initially go all-in on that plan, with head coach Tyronn Lue given no mandate to find minutes for young prospects, but George’s injury could push L.A. further in that direction.
- Rival executives believe the Clippers will be willing to discuss many of their veteran players at the trade deadline, per Fischer. “They’re pretty much open for business for anyone except their main guys and Terance Mann. I think they really are fine falling out of the playoffs and regrouping for next year,” a Western Conference official told Bleacher Report. “I think they’re trying to shed the Marcus Morrises of the world, guys that have some value and maybe can replace them with younger talent, maybe cheaper [contracts], to free them to get someone else this summer.”
- The Jazz would be a good fit for Morris, in Fischer’s view, but he cautions that the Clippers may be hesitant to send the veteran forward to a key Western Conference rival like Utah, since even if the Clips are sellers this season, the two teams could face one another again in the playoffs again as soon as next year.
- Serge Ibaka and Justise Winslow are among the players the Clippers have received inquiries about, Scotto said on the HoopsHype podcast. Fischer suggests that Ibaka may be the top trade candidate on L.A.’s roster, since offloading his $9.7MM salary would save the team a ton of money on its year-end tax bill. The Thunder, one of the only teams that can accommodate a salary-dump trade without sending out a player, are a team to watch, per Fischer. The Clippers could incentivize them with cash and/or second-round picks.