We knew something was off when Kawhi Leonard from the Los Angeles Clippers exited Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz with a knee injury. When Kawhi didn’t appear in the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns, fans and gamblers assumed the worse – that he had a serious ACL injury.
At the time of the setback, the Clippers issued a vague statement that Kawhi had an ACL injury, but didn’t specify if it was a full or partial tear. Several weeks later, the Clippers confirmed that Kawhi underwent successful surgery on Tuesday to repair a partially torn ACL in his right knee.
There’s no timetable for his return, but Kawhi is expected to miss the start of next season. If he has problems with his rehab, he could miss the entire 2021-22 season outright.
In the 2021 playoffs, Kawhi looked unstoppable, averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. He shot 57% from the floor, including 39% from 3-point land. During the regular season, Kawhi averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. He was ranked #7 in the NBA with a 26.09 PER ranking.
Is the Clippers curse still active?
Without Kawhi, the Clippers were still able to pick off the top-seeded Jazz and end the so-called Clippers curse. Prior to this season, the Clippers never advanced past the West semifinals. When Kawhi went down, many fans expected the worst and assumed it was the Clippers’ curse rearing its ugly head. Then, Paul George put the Clippers on his back and finally ended the hex. Or did he?
In the Western Conference finals, the Clippers couldn’t keep up with the Phoenix Suns, who won the series in six games to advance to the NBA Finals. Sure, the Clippers finally got over the hump and advanced to the West finals for the first time in history, but it came at a serious cost.
Meniscus injuries are painful, but players can play through the pain, just like Joel Embiid did with the Philadelphia 76ers. ACL injuries are a different beast that require reconstructive surgery. Players recover from ACL injuries faster in the 2020s than they did 20 years ago, but they’re still not minor setbacks.
And, Kawhi isn’t exactly a spring chicken. He recently turned 30-years old and a bum knee will be a looming liability in the future.
Kawhi Contract Questions
Kawhi has a player option on his contract worth $36 million. If he opts in, then he can sign an extension. If he opts out, he can test the free-agent waters or negotiate a new contract with the Clippers, but he won’t have Larry Bird rights, and won’t be able to get a true max-contract.
“Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option,” Kawhi said in an interview with the LA Times in December. “But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying.”
With Kawhi injured, he’ll most likely opt in. Kawhi already has two NBA championships under his belt with the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors. The Clippers originally signed Kawhi and made a hefty trade to acquire Paul George in hopes of winning the franchise’s first championship. The torn ACL is a serious setback, so it’s no wonder the Clippers were silent about it.
The Clippers are +1200 odds to win the 2022 NBA Championship, according to a recent update by the Mirage Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas.