The Los Angeles Clippers announced on Tuesday that two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard underwent surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL.
Leonard, 30, suffered the knee injury in Los Angeles’ Western Conference Semifinals series against the Utah Jazz. He ultimately missed the entirety of the Western Conference Finals with the Clippers falling to the Phoenix Suns.
This injury could not have come at a least opportune time for Kawhi Leonard. He’s slated to hit NBA free agency next month with reports suggesting that the future Hall of Famer is likely to opt out of his $36.02 million salary for the 2021-22 season.
While there’s a strong likelihood Leonard will return to the Clippers, other teams have shown a ton of interest in one of the game’s best players. With no timeline for his return, that could impact things big time. Below, we look at three takeaways from Tuesday’s bad news.
Certain teams will not chase after Kawhi Leonard in free agency
This is important to note. Most recently, the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks have been linked to Leonard. That likely doesn’t change following news that Leonard underwent ACL surgery.
On the other hand, other contending teams might now take a step back when it comes to potentially chasing after Leonard. This includes a Golden State Warriors team that has in the recent past been linked to their Western Conference foe.
Any move for Leonard would require the Los Angeles Clippers to bite the bullet and pull off a sign-and-trade with their Pacific Division rivals. That was already highly unlikely. Now that Leonard’s recovery will likely take him through the start of the 2022 calendar year, Golden State might not have interest. Remember, Klay Thompson is also expected to miss the start of next season after missing the past two years to injuries.
The same thing could be said for teams like the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, two squads who will need their full complement of assets to ascend the standings in a highly competitive Eastern Conference next season.
How Kawhi Leonard surgery impacts Los Angeles Clippers’ offseason plans
Fresh off their deepest run in the playoffs in franchise history, the Clippers still need to improve their depth in order to be seen as legit title contenders next season. That’s magnified even further with Leonard now likely to miss at least the first two months of the 2021-22 campaign.
Without a ton of assets to work with when it comes to cap space and draft picks, Clippers general manager Michael Winger is going to have to get creative.
Los Angeles could technically bring back $28 million in salary if the team were to unload Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris. For his part, Mann has some nice trade value after a tremendous performance in the NBA Playoffs.
With the Clippers in need of help at point guard, there’s now a decent chance that they attempt to find another true star to team up with Paul George in Leonard’s absence. Could the players mentioned above coupled with the Clippers’ 2021 first-round pick be enough to land someone like Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers or recently-acquired Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Kemba Walker? I am not too sure.
NBA trade market amid Kawhi Leonard injury news
The likes of fellow wings DeMar DeRozan and Kelly Oubre are prime sign-and-trade candidates. While neither one is at the same level as Leonard, each saw his value increase on the market following Tuesday’s news. To a lesser extent, the same thing could be said about Lonzo Ball. He now becomes a real option for the Clippers in a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Teams that were initially interested in Leonard might turn their attention in a different direction. Heck, there’s now a chance that Leonard opts into his contract for next season. Yes, a lot of things have changed around the Association now that it’s confirmed one of the game’s top players is facing a long recovery from ACL surgery.