The fifth-year center had been ahead of his rehab schedule for some time, but Portland officials wanted to wait for the sixth-month date before giving Leonard complete clearance. He participated in his first full practice Saturday and reported no lingering effects from the injury.
“I felt good out there,” Leonard said. “That’s my first time playing live five-on-five obviously, so getting the conditioning back like I mentioned before is going to be key for me. But overall I felt pretty good, felt confident on the offensive end, defensive end, playing at the rim, rebounding the ball. Progressing as time goes on.”
Leonard was a restricted free agent over the summer, and there were concerns that the injury might hold down his value. However, the Blazers showed their faith in him with a new four-year, $41MM commitment.
Leonard was averaging 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game before the shoulder injury prematurely ended his season in March. He appeared in 61 games last season, starting 10, and is expected to battle Mason Plumlee and the newly signed Festus Ezeli for minutes at the center position. Ezeli has been inactive since late August after receiving an injection in his left knee.
The Blazers plan to test Leonard right away, as coach Terry Stotts intends to use him in Portland’s next preseason game on Tuesday. Leonard said he spent all summer looking forward to his return.
“You can run and swim, do whatever you want,” Leonard said, “but until you’re guarding a pick and roll, grabbing a rebound, outlet it, run the floor, shooting the three, trying to go up for an offensive rebound, running back, getting smashed on a transition play, there’s nothing like it.”