After having surgery to repair a partial tear of his right ACL on July 13th, 2021, Kawhi Leonard has been considered a long shot to return to play for the Clippers this season, particularly with how cautiously teams have handled Leonard over the years.
But there is good news on that front for Los Angeles, per Yahoo's Chris Haynes, who reported live on the TNT Suns-Clippers broadcast that Leonard is "ahead of schedule" in his rehab and a "strong possibility" to return this season.
If this happens, and assuming Paul George gets back to full strength upon his return from a torn elbow ligament, it would obviously force us to rethink the Western Conference power structure come playoff time.
Indeed, Haynes says multiple Clippers players told him they would not be concerned with their playoff seed, "believing that if fully healthy, they'll be favorites over most in the West."
There's a lot of speculation baked in here. For starters, this is just a positive update on Leonard's rehab at the moment. Setbacks are always a possibility. And even if he does come back, we don't know when that will be or how effective he'll be right away. It would be hard to jump right into playoff basketball after close to a year off.
But for the sake of conversation, yes, if Leonard and George are healthy and the Clippers are intact around them, you could make a strong case they'd be on the short list of conference-crown contenders. But they have to get to the postseason first. Entering their games vs. Phoenix, the Clippers were the West's No. 7 seed at 19-19, meaning they would have to get through a play-in game to make the field.