Kawhi Leonard

Clippers’ Lawrence Frank Talks Roster, Offseason, More

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday for his annual postseason press conference, Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said the team will look to upgrade the roster this summer after a disappointing end to 2021/22, writes Mirjam Swanson of The Southern California News Group.

We’re going to have to look at areas of improvement,” Frank said. “We want to make sure that we maximize our opportunities and be able to do something that’s never been done in the history of this organization.”

The Clippers failed to advance to the playoffs after losing both of their play-in tournament games, partly due to the season-long absence of Kawhi Leonard (ACL recovery) and Paul George‘s elbow injury (as well as his positive COVID-19 result the day of the second play-in loss). Frank said the team’s inability to win a championship with its star wings has shown “how fragile the difference between winning and losing is,” but he’ll use the playoff absence as “fuel for a great offseason,” per Swanson.

Frank said he’s encouraged by Leonard’s recovery progress, but declined to give any timetables for a potential return.

Here’s more from Frank’s press conference, courtesy of Swanson:

  • L.A. holds the Bird rights to unrestricted free agent Robert Covington, who recently said he was intrigued by the idea of playing with Leonard and George. Frank said he was happy to hear that, because the team would like to bring him back. “RoCo was very, very good for us. I’m excited to hear that he likes it here. We look forward and we’d like to be able to keep him here.”
  • Isaiah Hartenstein is also a free agent, but the Clips only holds his Non-Bird rights. The big man surpassed Frank’s expectations this season. “We actually recruited Isaiah … we put a lot of effort into it,” said Frank, who noted Hartenstein’s qualities, including his play-making, paint protection, floater and chemistry with the team. “Now, did we think he was going to be able to deliver at this high a level? No.”
  • From a developmental perspective, the Frank said the season was a great success, according to Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. “From a process standpoint [it] went better than expected,” Frank said, calling the development of the team’s young players a “huge silver lining.”
  • League sources tell Greif the team will look to add a point guard this summer, but Frank was coy when asked about the possibility. “The game now is played a little bit differently, there are some obviously elite point guards in the league, but a lot of teams are playing through their wings like we do,” Frank said. “So I look at it as do we have enough play initiators between Kawhi, PG, Norm [Norman Powell], Reggie [Jackson], Terance [Mann]? I don’t know; we’ll look at it. We’re not averse to it, but we’ll continue to evaluate and see if we have to address it.”
  • Frank is hopeful that Jason Preston (foot surgery) and Jay Scrubb (turf toe surgery) will be ready for Summer League, Greif relays.

Clippers Notes: Leonard, George, Covington, Batum, Hartenstein, Outlook

The Clippers were a much more optimistic bunch than most teams after getting eliminated from playoff contention, Jim Alexander of the Orange County Register writes. That’s due to the return of perennial All-Star Kawhi Leonard from his knee injury, plus the expectation that Paul George will have better injury luck next season.

In addition to being out for most of the season due to an elbow injury, George missed Friday’s play-in tournament loss to New Orleans after testing positive for COVID-19.

We get our main guys back. I mean, we can be dangerous,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think when you get Kawhi and PG back healthy, Norm (Powell for) a full season … this team can be pretty special. But it’s all about health. Our young guys (Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, (Luke) Kennard, Ivica Zubac), all those guys have (had) a chance to develop and play meaningful games. They played big for us. Our veteran guys, we already talked about what Marcus (Morris), Nico (Batum), Reggie (Jackson) have brought to this team. We got to get back, get back to the drawing board. But I’m very excited for this group, the guys coming back.”

We have more on the Clippers:

  • Robert Covington will be an unrestricted free agent this summer but the prospect of playing with Leonard and George is enticing to him, Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times tweets“The way that we played tonight when we went small, imagine PG and Kawhi in that lineup,’ he said. “That’s a lot of versatility … Once them guys come back next year, if I’m here, I’m really looking forward to that.”
  • By trading for Covington, the Clippers also acquired his Bird rights, which will allow them to exceed the salary cap and luxury tux to retain him, ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes in his guide to the team’s offseason. They don’t have a first-rounder due to the George trade but they will have two trade exceptions of $9.7MM and $8.3MM, plus the taxpayer mid-level exception of $6.3MM, to make roster upgrades.
  • Another potential decision is whether to re-sign Batum if he declines his $3.3MM option, Yossi Gozlan of Hoops Hype notes in his offseason preview. They hold Non-Bird rights on another unrestricted free agent, Isaiah Hartenstein. Gozlan also breaks down the remaining salary due to each player on the roster.
  • After blowing two chances to make the playoffs, the Clippers are in typical wait-til-next-year mode, Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times opines. Despite the rosy outlook, the Clippers can’t guarantee that Leonard will regain his pre-injury form, that the chemistry will be the same or that someone else won’t get hurt.

Pacific Notes: Poole, Thompson, S. Johnson, Kawhi, Kaminsky

Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala recently compared two third-year players, former teammate Tyler Herro and current teammate Jordan Poole, and thinks both players could be in for big paydays on their next contracts.

It’s funny. I’m hearing Tyler is looking at a max contract. I’m laughing at Jordan, like, it’s the same thing,” Iguodala said (video link via Anthony Slater of The Athletic).

As third-year former first-round pick, Poole is eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer, though Golden State might opt to wait until after the 2022/23 season to offer him a new deal in order to maintain financial flexibility. He’d be a restricted free agent at that point.

Poole is having a breakout season for the Warriors, averaging 18.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists on .454/.368/.920 shooting (.602 true) through 74 games (30 minutes per night). He’s been outstanding since the beginning of March, averaging 25.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists on .492/.437/.910 shooting in the past 19 games.

Here’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Warriors guard Klay Thompson will miss Saturday’s game at San Antonio for precautionary reasons, writes Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area. Thompson has typically been held out of the second game of back-to-backs, but coach Steve Kerr decided to switch things up and rest him on the first night this time instead. Thompson has been red-hot lately, scoring a combined 69 points over his past two games.
  • After Friday’s win over the Thunder, forward Stanley Johnson said he hopes the Lakers exercise their team option to retain him for next season, according to team beat reporter Mike Trudell (Twitter link). “Hopefully I’ve played well enough that they would take me back,” Johnson said.
  • Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said on Friday that Kawhi Leonard hasn’t advanced past individual workouts yet, as Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times relays (via Twitter). Leonard has missed the entire season after suffering a torn ACL last June.
  • Suns head coach Monty Williams said “it was tough decision for us” to part with Frank Kaminsky, who was released on Thursday. “He meant a lot to us, and me personally, I’m grateful for everything he did for us. I just wish he could’ve gone on with us, but these are tough decisions that we have to make. The cool part was, he totally understood and it just says a lot about who he is as a person,” Williams said (video link from Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic).

Paul George Shows Progress In Recovery From Elbow Injury

Paul George is progressing in his rehab and Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he’s willing to play George, Kawhi Leonard or Norman Powell when they’re ready, even if they don’t return before the end of the regular season, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

George has not played since December 22 due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He participated in a 4-on-4 practice against assistant coaches with minimal contact on Sunday.

“He’s feeling better,” Lue said. “That is part of his rehab, having minimal contact with the coaches and trying to get his wind and just kind of see how he feels. To get him on the court for the first time was really good to see, got to continue to keep working and see how he is feeling going forward.”

The Clippers, who have lost three straight, are essentially locked into the play-in tournament. They’re currently eighth in the Western Conference, 6.5 games behind the sixth- and seventh-place Timberwolves and Nuggets with nine games to play. They’re 4.5 games ahead of the ninth-place Lakers.

Leonard hasn’t played this season after undergoing knee surgery last summer. Powell, who fractured a bone in his left foot shortly after he was acquired from Portland at the trade deadline, shed his walking boot last week but hasn’t yet cleared been cleared for contact, according to Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register.

Lue won’t hesitate to use any of them in the playoffs.

“To hit the playoffs going at 100, from zero to 100, that is pretty tough. But if the medical guys say they are cleared and they are able to do that, that is totally up to them,” he said.

Injury Notes: Leonard, George, Bulls, D. Green, Reddish

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard took part in a “rigorous” pregame workout that lasted well over an hour on Tuesday, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports said during TNT’s broadcast (video link via Justin Russo). According to Haynes, it looked like Leonard had “zero limitations” during that workout, but head coach Tyronn Lue said the two-time Finals MVP still hasn’t been cleared for contact, as Mirjam Swanson of The Southern California News Group relays.

Although Kawhi is clearly making progress, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski stated on Wednesday’s episode of NBA Today that a return this season is “more realistic” for teammate Paul George than for Leonard (video link). The Clippers haven’t ruled out the possibility of Leonard playing this spring, but Woj notes that it’s still been less than eight months since he underwent ACL surgery, which would be a very quick turnaround even if his recovery is ahead of schedule.

The Clippers are in position to make the play-in tournament and could extend their season by earning one of the West’s final two playoff spots, but the team may not be comfortable bringing back Leonard in the postseason without any regular season reps.

“I spoke to Coach Lue,” Haynes said on TNT last night. “And he told me that if he can’t get his guys back for games in the regular season, then it wouldn’t be safe for them to return in the playoffs.”

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • The Bulls have cleared Alex Caruso (wrist) for full contact and Patrick Williams (wrist) for “minimal” contact, per head coach Billy Donovan. As K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes, there’s still no set timeline for either player to return to action. However, if Caruso is able to fully participate in the team’s next practice on Friday, he could be on track to play soon.
  • Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said today that swingman Danny Green will “most likely” miss Thursday’s game vs. Brooklyn due to a finger laceration, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN (Twitter link). Due to the risk of his stitches reopening, Green may end up being sidelined for a week or more, tweets Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com.
  • The Knicks have three games left on their current road trip, but forward Cam Reddish has returned to New York in order to have his injured right shoulder reevaluated, head coach Tom Thibodeau said today (Twitter link via Fred Katz of The Athletic). The injury, which Reddish sustained on Monday, is being called a sprain for now.

Clippers Notes: Covington, Powell, Blazers Trade

Robert Covington said he’s “beyond excited” by getting traded with Norman Powell to the Clippers, ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk writes. The duo was shipped by the Trail Blazers in exchange for Eric BledsoeJustise WinslowKeon Johnson, and Detroit’s 2025 second-round pick on Friday. “It’s going to make us dynamic — more dynamic than what we already are and it’s going to be scary defensively,” Covington said.

Powell pumped in 28 points in a loss to Milwaukee on Sunday in his Clippers’ debut. Powell said he’ll have no trouble fitting in when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard return from their injuries.

“Literally for all my career, I have been in every single role on the team,” Powell said. “The guy fighting and scratching trying to get into the rotation. Being in a rotation, being taken out of a rotation, playing alongside Kyle [Lowry] and DeMar [DeRozan], playing alongside Kyle and Kawhi, playing off of them [in Toronto]. So I think I can fit perfectly in here, with PG and Kawhi.”

We have more on the Clippers:

  • The acquisition of Covington and Powell proved the Clippers have hit the market as resilient buyers, rather than selling off pieces due to their star duo’s injuries, Mark Medina of NBA.com opines. The Clippers managed to acquire talent while maintaining some flexibility, Medina notes. Powell is a dependable player entering his prime while on the first year of a five-year contract. Covington is an unrestricted free agent this summer but the Clippers now hold his Bird Rights if they want to re-sign him.
  • The acquisition of Powell could lead an especially potent crunch-time lineup in 2022/23 season when Leonard and George return to full health, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic. Powell fits in snugly in a sniper role playing alongside Leonard and George. Add in Luke Kennard or Reggie Jackson and defenses would struggle mightily to guard that quartet on the perimeter.
  • Coach Tyronn Lue and Portland coach Chauncey Billups are close friends, and that should facilitate the acclimation process for the newly-acquired duo, Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register writes. “Me and Chauncey, we run a lot of the same stuff,” Lue said. “Pretty much the same system, especially early offensive stuff. … The biggest thing is those guys getting comfortable and understand who they’re playing with on the floor and picking and choosing their spots.”

Clippers Rumors: Frank, George, Leonard, Luxury Tax, Ibaka

The Clippers were involved in the first trade of deadline week and there may be more to come, writes Andrew Grief of The Los Angeles Times. A day after acquiring rotation players Norman Powell and Robert Covington from the Trail Blazers, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank told reporters that “roster building is very much ongoing.”

Frank has a track record of being active around the deadline since he joined the franchise five years ago, Greif notes. He is determined to build the best possible roster around Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, even though there’s no guarantee that either player will return from injury in time to play this season.

Frank would like to find another ball-handler after sending backup point guard Eric Bledsoe to Portland in Friday’s trade. Coach Tyronn Lue said Terance Mann will fill that role for now, and Frank isn’t necessarily seeking a traditional point guard to replace Bledsoe.

“Instead of saying point guard, I really look at ‘play starter,’ ‘play finisher,’ ‘connector,’” Frank said. “And, look, our two best players have the ball in their hands 60% of the time. And point guards, as you know, what a point guard was 20 years ago is different than what is 10 years ago is different than today. … “I don’t even call it a point guard, it’s like, ‘OK, can we find a guy who can do these skill sets that maybe relieve some of the burden on Kawhi and Paul? And guess what? That player can be a forward. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a quote-unquote point guard.”

There’s more on the Clippers, all from Greif’s story:

  • George was shooting with his left hand before this morning’s practice. He has an MRI exam on his injured right elbow scheduled for February 24, but it won’t be the “ultimate decision-maker” on whether he tries to return before the season ends, Frank said. He added that the team is still in the dark about Leonard’s status. “No one knows, he doesn’t know,” Frank said. “But all you can do is just every day continue to control what you can control and see how he responds. Literally nothing has changed and I know it’s probably a frustrating answer or response but it’s just the reality. We don’t know.”
  • Getting Powell and Covington added close to $20MM to this year’s projected luxury tax bill, pushing it past $112MM, and Frank said owner Steve Ballmer is willing to pay whatever it takes to upgrade the roster. “We never thought it was realistic for us to get a player like Norm Powell for a team that won’t have salary cap space for a long, long, long time,” Frank said. “It’s really, really hard to get players like Norm, who are under a long-term deal, who are in their prime.”
  • Trade rumors are surrounding Serge Ibaka, who is the third-string center and has a $9.7MM expiring contract, but Frank said it’s possible he will be kept past the deadline. “Like anything, look, we will continue to look for opportunities to enhance the team,” Frank said. “Whether it is Serge or other situations.”

Latest On Kawhi Leonard, Paul George

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.

Clippers Rumors: Leonard, George, Morris, Ibaka, Winslow

In the latest episode of the HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto said the Clippers remain focused on being competitive when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard get back on the floor.

However, despite a recent report stating that Leonard is ahead of schedule in his rehab from an ACL tear, Scotto has heard that some people within the organization believe the star forward is unlikely to return this season. Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report echoes that sentiment, writing that there’s a “healthy dose of skepticism” around the NBA about Leonard playing in 2021/22.

“He’s always played things methodically and cautiously,” a source with knowledge of Leonard’s thinking told Fischer. “I knew he was ahead of schedule [in his rehab], but I wouldn’t bet on it. Kawhi is always focused on the long term. If they’re not in the playoff picture, I think the chances he comes back are slim to none.”

Fischer also shared an ominous update on George, writing that the Clippers are prepared for the possibility that the forward’s elbow injury will keep him sidelined far beyond the three-to-four week timeline the team initially announced for a reevaluation. It’s not out of the question that George’s injury could keep him out of action for the rest of the season, according to Fischer.

If the Clippers believe there’s a chance George and Leonard may both be unavailable for the rest of the season, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll pivot to becoming sellers at the deadline, Fischer adds.

Here’s more on the team from both Scotto and Fischer:

  • Following Leonard’s ACL tear in the 2021 playoffs, the Clippers’ front office broached the possibility of treating the 2021/22 season as more of a “gap year” before pushing again for a title in ’22/23, and owner Steve Ballmer was on board with that idea, Fischer says. The team didn’t initially go all-in on that plan, with head coach Tyronn Lue given no mandate to find minutes for young prospects, but George’s injury could push L.A. further in that direction.
  • Rival executives believe the Clippers will be willing to discuss many of their veteran players at the trade deadline, per Fischer. “They’re pretty much open for business for anyone except their main guys and Terance Mann. I think they really are fine falling out of the playoffs and regrouping for next year,” a Western Conference official told Bleacher Report. “I think they’re trying to shed the Marcus Morrises of the world, guys that have some value and maybe can replace them with younger talent, maybe cheaper [contracts], to free them to get someone else this summer.” 
  • The Jazz would be a good fit for Morris, in Fischer’s view, but he cautions that the Clippers may be hesitant to send the veteran forward to a key Western Conference rival like Utah, since even if the Clips are sellers this season, the two teams could face one another again in the playoffs again as soon as next year.
  • Serge Ibaka and Justise Winslow are among the players the Clippers have received inquiries about, Scotto said on the HoopsHype podcast. Fischer suggests that Ibaka may be the top trade candidate on L.A.’s roster, since offloading his $9.7MM salary would save the team a ton of money on its year-end tax bill. The Thunder, one of the only teams that can accommodate a salary-dump trade without sending out a player, are a team to watch, per Fischer. The Clippers could incentivize them with cash and/or second-round picks.

Kawhi Leonard Could Return Sooner Than Anticipated

Kawhi Leonard was expected to miss most or all of this season after undergoing surgery in July to repair a partially torn ACL. According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, there’s increasing optimism that Leonard will be in uniform this season.

The Clippers’ superstar is ahead of schedule in his rehab and a return this season is a strong possibility, sources told Haynes. Leonard has ramped up his workload in recent weeks and is gaining strength.

The Clippers entered Thursday as a .500 team (19-19) and it stands to reason Leonard wouldn’t come back unless they remain in the playoff hunt. He’d certainly make them a dangerous lower seed should he be healthy enough to play.

Otherwise, the team might be wise to wait until next year, since its franchise player made a multi-year commitment after undergoing the surgery. Leonard signed a four-year, maximum salary contract worth approximately $176.3MM. He holds a player option on the final year of the deal.