kawhi-leonard.jpg

Kawhi Leonard has had surgery to repair a partially torn ACL, the Los Angeles Clippers announced on Tuesday. Leonard initially suffered the injury in Game 4 of the Clippers' second-round series against the Utah Jazz. When he was asked about his knee after Game 4, he responded "It's good, next question," but the team later found him to be more seriously injured than previously thought. He was held out of the last eight games of the postseason for the Clippers, including the entire Western Conference finals series against the Phoenix Suns

The exact nature of the injury Leonard suffered during the postseason was not known at the time. The Clippers did not offer a diagnosis beyond a knee sprain, and he was ruled out on a game-by-game basis, never for the postseason as a whole. The Clippers rallied without him to come within two games of the NBA Finals but were ultimately eliminated in six games by the Suns. Leonard averaged a stellar 30.4 points in the postseason on over 57 percent shooting.

In addition to the nature of the injury, the exact timeline of the injury is not yet known. A torn ACL typically takes approximately one year to recover from. That puts the Clippers in a similar position to the Denver Nuggets due to the unique schedule this season has been played under. Leonard suffered his injury in mid-June, later than he otherwise would have, just as Jamal Murray suffered his injury in April. The difference is that Murray suffered a full tear. Leonard, apparently, has suffered only a partial tear. No two injuries are fully alike, but Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a partially torn ACL in December, and reports indicated that he may have been able to return for the NBA Finals had the Nets made it that far. Such a recovery could have Leonard back for the middle of next season, but without knowing the severity of the tear, an exact timeline is still unclear. 

Leonard has a player option for next season worth $36 million. If he declines it, he can re-sign with the Clippers for only four seasons as an Early-Bird free agent. That is the same length of contract he could receive from another team in free agency. He'd need to stay with the Clippers for one more year in order to earn full Bird Rights and the ability to sign a new five-year contract. With this injury, though, he may be more willing to accept the security of a long-term deal with the Clippers now. The first deal he signed in Los Angeles had only two guaranteed seasons, but Leonard is now 30 and has a meaningful history of injuries. 

Regardless, the Clippers now figure to be in a very difficult position next season. They proved they could hold their own without Leonard for a brief period in the playoffs, but a months-long absence might be another story. The pressure will now fall on Paul George and the rest of the roster to keep the team afloat until he is able to return.