Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is “probably not gonna come back” this season, head coach Tyronn Lue told reporters, including Mirjam Swanson of the Southern California News Group, on Thursday night.
Lue made that statement on Leonard in passing when he was asked, following a thrilling win over the Lakers, about the challenge of coaching a team missing its top two players (Kawhi and Paul George).
“The enjoyment I get from this team, we know Kawhi’s probably not gonna come back, we don’t know the status of PG, but these guys continue to keep fighting,” Lue said. “Every single night. And so that’s kind of how I had to play, that’s how I had to make it, so just seeing how these guys scrap and compete every single night, just makes me feel good – that’s the enjoyment I get from coaching this team.”
Asked to clarify whether he was counting on not having Leonard for the rest of the regular season – and possibly the postseason too – Lue said he’s not ruling anything out.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Lue said, per Swanson. “I mean, I’m not a doctor. But hope is stronger than fear. So I’m hoping that these two guys (Leonard and George) can come back. But, you know, you never know. So that’s all I got to say, man.”
Leonard has spent the entire season so far recovering from surgery on a partially torn ACL. Despite one report stating he’s ahead of schedule in his rehab and could return earlier than expected, other reports have conveyed pessimism about the likelihood of the two-time Finals MVP returning this season.
George, meanwhile, is dealing with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. During Thursday’s broadcast, TNT’s Allie LaForce reported that George will undergo an MRI on that elbow on February 24 to assess how it’s healing. Lue confirmed that report after the game, as Swanson relays.
The Clippers have been optimistic that George will be able to make it back this season without requiring surgery on his elbow. If the MRI shows later this month that the injury isn’t healing like team doctors have hoped, surgical intervention may be necessary. Such a procedure would almost certainly end George’s season, but for now it sounds like that’s a last resort.
Even without their two star forwards, the Clippers have remained firmly in the play-in mix in a Western Conference that has been less competitive than usual beyond the top few seeds. L.A. is only at .500 (27-27), but currently controls the No. 8 spot in the West, 1.5 games up on the ninth-place Lakers and a full five games ahead of the No. 10 Trail Blazers.