Kawhi Leonard will miss at least part of next season after having surgery Tuesday to fix a partial ACL tear in his right knee, and the length of his recovery process will determine what the future looks like for the Clippers.
Leonard suffered a Grade II tear, which falls between a best-case and worst-case scenario, according to Law Murray of The Athletic. The injury is similar to what Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie had in December, and although Dinwiddie talked about returning before the end of the season, he never made it back.
Dinwiddie was cleared for basketball activities in June, and Murray notes that a similar timeline would have Leonard ready sometime in January, meaning he would miss roughly half the season. However, it’s more likely that he will need about nine months, which means he would be ready sometime around the start of the playoffs.
It’s very possible that Leonard will sit out the entire season, Murray adds. He has a history of leg injuries, and the Clippers may decide to be cautious with one of their franchise cornerstones.
Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register talked to Dr. Alan Beyer, executive medical director at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California, who confirms an absence of about nine months is the most likely outcome.
“We don’t have long-term data on some of the bridging partial ACL tear procedures, so I can’t say to you, ‘That’s all he needed, he’ll be fine,’” Beyer said. “The only difference is you haven’t sacrificed any of the athlete’s own tissues – quad, patellar, hamstring – but you have added this scaffolding or bridge, and that goes through a period of time when it might be a little bit weaker because it has to get vascularized. And that might take a year, and I might go slower on rehabilitating a partial ACL construction.”
The surgery comes at a crucial time for Leonard, who has a $36MM player option for next season. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton notes that Leonard could opt out and re-sign with the Clippers, which would add $3.3MM to his salary for next year and give him three more guaranteed seasons after that. He could also pick up the option and become eligible for an extension, which would run through 2025/26, when his salary would be $50.2MM.
The Clippers were able to advance to the Western Conference finals after Leonard’s injury, but they were barely better than a .500 team when he missed games during the regular season. It will be expensive just to keep the current roster together, Pelton notes, as Reggie Jackson will be a free agent and the team only has Early Bird rights to try to re-sign him. Nicolas Batum is also headed to free agency, and L.A. would have to use part of its mid-level exception to make more than an offer worth much more than the minimum.