Kawhi Leonard ACL Injury: What does this mean for his and the LA Clippers' future?

Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard
Raunak Jaiswal

The LA Clippers announced Tuesday night that superstar Kawhi Leonard has undergone surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL. Leonard suffered the injury in Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals against the Utah Jazz.

There's plenty to unpack here now that Kawhi Leonard is set to undergo a long rehabilitation process and remain sidelined indefinitely. This puts his future in serious doubt considering Leonard has a player option with the LA Clippers for the 2021-22 season that he needs to decide upon by August 1.

The LA Clippers' offseason plans will also be affected as a result since Leonard's unavailability will impact their goals for the upcoming campaign. That would have a domino effect on the front office's activity level in the open market. Let's go over all the possible implications one by one.

How long will Kawhi Leonard be sidelined?

Any form of ACL tear requires a rehabilitation period of six to nine months, but it's not uncommon for NBA players to miss the whole season. Klay Thompson suffered a torn left ACL during the 2019 NBA Finals and sat out for the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

Spencer Dinwiddie is a better case study to highlight Kawhi Leonard's situation. Like Leonard, Dinwiddie also suffered a partially torn ACL in his right knee in December last year. He received his medical clearance in June but decided not to participate in the playoffs for the Brooklyn Nets.

Considering Kawhi Leonard's past history with knee injuries – especially his right quadriceps injury, which was the primary reason behind his load management antics – he's likely to miss a good chunk of the 2021-22 season. He's only likely to come back late into the next campaign. It wouldn't be surprising if Leonard decides to miss next season entirely either.

What does this mean for Kawhi Leonard's future?

Kawhi Leonard has a player option with the LA Clippers worth roughly $36 million for next season. Leonard's ACL injury will turn away most if not all the suitors he could've had this offseason if he'd chosen to decline the player option.

It's not just Leonard's immediate unavailability that's the issue here. This would be his second major injury to the same right knee. There will be doubts regarding his performance levels once he does return, whenever that may be. So any team would think twice before offering him a long-term deal.

At the end of the day, Kawhi Leonard would want to compete for a championship when he's healthy again. He should definitely consider signing with another franchise if there are long-term offers from well-rounded franchises such as the Miami Heat or New York Knicks. Staying put with the LA Clippers should be a no-brainer if they offer a long-term deal too.

The endgame for Kawhi Leonard would be to sort out his future this summer itself. If he opts into his player option without committing to a long contract, possible setbacks during his recovery phase could derail his future, much as they did for DeMarcus Cousins, who was a max player before tearing his ACL in 2018.

What's next for the LA Clippers?

Kawhi Leonard's injury should not prevent the LA Clippers from offering him a max extension this summer. The roster is still built around Leonard and even if he walks away in free agency, the Clippers won't have any cap space to build another contending squad quickly.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer hands Kawhi Leonard his jersey as he and Paul George are introduced
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer hands Kawhi Leonard his jersey as he and Paul George are introduced

What should change here is the number of years on the contract that the LA Clippers offer. Instead of giving him a four-year extension, the Clippers could possibly look at a two-year deal with a third year as the player option.

This would give Kawhi Leonard financial security for the foreseeable future. It would also give him the chance to sign a five-year supermax after the two guaranteed years on the new contract expire. For the LA Clippers, it would give them some financial relief too if Leonard is unable to reach his previous highs.

The biggest change will come in terms of roster building this offseason. If there's an expectation that Kawhi Leonard will be sitting out the entire year, the LA Clippers front office would be better off saving their resources this summer and getting through the year with stop-gap signings.

Even if Kawhi does return some time during the next season, he's unlikely to be at his best right away. You can expect the LA Clippers to have a quiet offseason outside of re-signing Leonard to a new deal.

Also read: 3 players who may not return to the LA Clippers roster for the 2021-22 season

Edited by Raunak Jaiswal


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