Kawhi Leonard stated he “definitely got a lot stronger” after a season off and is ready to start training camp when the LA Clippers open practice on Tuesday.
In his first comments since media day prior to last season, Leonard said he is good to go for camp — which opens in Las Vegas — after missing all of last season due to a torn right ACL.
“Plan is tomorrow to start training camp,” Leonard said at Clippers media day before the team flew to Las Vegas. “For me individually, I’ll be participating in training camp. Then from there, just seeing how my progression is, how I feel, what I’m not feeling, is it moving correctly, and just keep going from there, just gradually building up.
“But right now, I feel good, and the plan is to start camp and play.”
Leonard is cleared to fully participate, but the Clippers will be cautious with their franchise star, who hasn’t played since tearing his right ACL in Game 4 of the second round versus the Utah Jazz on June 14, 2021.
“I feel stronger, for sure,” Leonard said. “It’s been, what, 14, 15 months of no basketball — well, playing in an NBA season for me, no basketball. That whole 13-, 14-month process is just lifting weights and getting stronger. I definitely got a lot stronger.”
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The two-time NBA Finals MVP said he isn’t sure how different of a player he will be once he returns to the court.
“Right now I feel good in my workouts, weightlifting,” Leonard said. “I don’t feel like I have a subconscious mind of not jumping off my leg per se. I feel good. We’ll just see how the season goes.
“And can’t really tell you how that’s going to work out.”
The Clippers have assembled perhaps the deepest team in the NBA.
Head coach Ty Lue could go 11 to 12 players deep on his roster, which is loaded with interchangeable veteran wings who can play both ways. And there are championship expectations on the Clippers and owner Steve Ballmer, who was walking around the team facility at media day on Monday.
In addition to Leonard and star guard Paul George, the Clippers have Norman Powell, John Wall, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Nic Batum, Terance Mann, Robert Covington and Luke Kennard.
“I think really that mindset of Team USA,” George said of how the Clippers might approach using their depth. “You take the best guys, and of course everybody is good and they’re all on teams, everybody is the star of their own teams. But when you put us all together, it’s how do I make you better now and how do I shine with this environment.”
“It should be a lot of fun with this team,” George added. “And should be a lot of good nights being a Clipper fan.”
Lue stated he did not know yet exactly how much Leonard will practice or play in the preseason but that it was good to know that he is feeling good again and the team will listen to how Leonard is feeling daily.
Leonard says he is ready to get back on the court, something he thinks possibly could have happened late last season if the Clippers had gone deep into the postseason. Leonard laughed after entertaining that notion. The Clippers, though, failed to make it out of the play-in tournament.
“I mean, it’s all woulda, coulda, shoulda right?” Leonard said when asked if he could have returned had the Clippers made the postseason. “But yeah, if they would have made it to the Finals last year, you would have seen me playing.”
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