After undergoing surgery in July to repair a partial tear of his right ACL, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard has no set timetable for his return to the court. Addressing Leonard’s health in a conversation with Mark Medina of USA Today, team owner Steve Ballmer said it’s “possible” the star forward will be back on the court before the end of the 2021-22 season, but he isn’t willing to make any guarantees.
“Nobody knows at this stage,” Ballmer said. “Nobody knows. It’s possible. For sure, it’s possible. But it will depend on what the doctors say and what Kawhi says.”
When a player suffers an ACL tear during the fall or winter, it typically ends his season, but a player’s recovery timeline is less clear when the injury occurs at or near the end of the prior season. For now, it seems safe to assume that Leonard will at least be sidelined for most of the 2021-22 campaign. However, Ballmer still believes the Clippers are a “very good team,” telling Medina that he expects to be in the hunt for a championship again if Kawhi can make it back in the spring.
“We’re coming in this year looking for a title,” Ballmer said. “Obviously not having arguably one of our two best players, that hurts. We’ll see when we get Kawhi back. But you think through a three-year stretch, we got all of these guys under contract for this year and next year. I think it gives us a lot of opportunity to compete.”
Ballmer, who made the media rounds in advance of breaking ground on the Clippers’ new Inglewood arena, conveyed a similar sentiment to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
“Every year I want to win,” Ballmer said. “Some people will talk about, ‘We’re taking a step back’ or ‘We got an injured year.’ No. Our fans can count on the fact that we are going to try to win as many ballgames as we can every year. Now, we took a little setback. We got to get Kawhi healthy. And when he’s back, we’re back at full strength.”
In conversations with Medina, Shelburne, and other reporters, Ballmer stressed that moving out of the Staples Center and into the Intuit Dome in 2024 represents the Clippers’ desire to create their own “identity” outside of the Lakers’ shadow.
The Clippers’ have long had a reputation as the Lakers’ overlooked little brother, but Ballmer told Medina he thinks his team has become a “great free agent destination” in its own right. The next steps for the Clippers, Ballmer says, are winning a championship and getting their own building.
“There’s 30 teams in the league. There’s 29 others. And we got one that happens to be based in L.A.,” Ballmer told Shelburne. “And we got our fans. We use our expression, ‘L.A. Our Way.’ And we’re building our own presence, identity. And if the other guys (the Lakers) feel a little threatened — the other guys’ fans, I mean; the players are actually a little different deal — but if they feel a little threatened, that’s OK. It means we’re doing good.”