Kawhi Leonard’s health is the top question heading into the NBA restart

“Nobody knows.” That was part of Kawhi Leonard’s response when asked about ramping up for the Los Angeles Clippers’ postseason run. And if he doesn’t know the answer to the NBA bubble’s most impactful mystery, then how is anybody else supposed to? Kawhi Leonard & Paul George lock in at @LAClippers practice in Orlando! #WholeNewGame…

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“Nobody knows.”

That was part of Kawhi Leonard’s response when asked about ramping up for the Los Angeles Clippers’ postseason run. And if he doesn’t know the answer to the NBA bubble’s most impactful mystery, then how is anybody else supposed to?

Kawhi Leonard & Paul George lock in at @LAClippers practice in Orlando! #WholeNewGame pic.twitter.com/VWe9UhrQe3

— NBA (@NBA) July 14, 2020

The state of the Clippers star’s health and capacity for extended playing time is the No. 1 question as we head towards a reimagined resumption of the NBA campaign, a now-consistent theme that this time could prove the defining factor in the outcome of the season.

Both before and after Leonard’s arrival in Orlando, information on what to expect from him when games recommence has been typically cryptic and guarded.

Fun Guy is all smiles in the bubble 🙂

(via @NBA) pic.twitter.com/462mQrmLZk

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 14, 2020

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has developed his own brand of doublespeak when it comes to his primary star, whose load management program designed to maximize his health and effectiveness is the league’s most popular gossip topic by far.

Rivers is thoroughly likable and engaging, a man who effortlessly mixes intelligence and good humor, but if you can make sense of what he says about Leonard and come up with a definitive pointer to what’s going to happen, you’ve outdone me. Presumably, the confusion is the whole point, as tipping their hand doesn’t benefit the Clippers in the slightest.

“No limits,” Rivers said, as Leonard made a delayed arrival in Florida at the start of the week, when quizzed about the level of his leading light’s involvement.

“We’re going to live the best Disney life that we can.” – @docrivers pic.twitter.com/UIL8ucZxh9

— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 14, 2020

That settles it then. Right? Not so fast.

“Kawhi is healthy … for the most part,” Rivers continued. “That still doesn’t mean we don’t want to maintain him and get him through the first eight games and ready for the playoffs. We want to be smart about this.”

Doc Rivers said he isn’t sure what the plan will be w/ Kawhi Leonard moving forward.

He said there shouldn’t be any limitations. “Kawhi is healthy, for the most part,” Rivers said. He added that their goal will be keeping him healthy and making sure he’s ready for playoffs.

— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) July 13, 2020

What exactly does being healthy “for the most part” mean? And how does planning to maintain someone during the preamble to the playoffs mean they are operating under no restrictions?

FOXBet lists the Clippers at 3-to-1 odds to win the NBA title, but that level of optimism is predicated on Leonard being available when it matters the most. Caution has been a watchword of his recent career, but it hasn’t held him back at all.

“I actually think this break is going to help them. They’re the only team to beat the Lakers twice… the Clippers are the favorites overall.”@Chris_Broussard tells @clubtrillion and @tatefrazier why the Clippers have benefited most from the time off 🙌 pic.twitter.com/kAgiK3T44E

— The Association on FOX (@TheAssociation) June 10, 2020

For the Toronto Raptors last season, Leonard missed 22 regular season games, 15 of them on the road, yet was fresh and largely unstoppable when the NBA Finals rolled around.

After joining the Clippers in free agency, Leonard played in 51 of the team’s 64 games. The Clippers stood in second place in the Western Conference at the time of the shutdown.

Leonard’s status divides opinion across league circles and among its fan base. On First Things First, FOX Sports’ Nick Wright and Chris Broussard could not agree on what comes next.

“The Clippers are going to be trouble.” — @Chris_Broussard pic.twitter.com/HBoCmXynee

— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) July 14, 2020

“I do think he has got some type of degenerative problem in that patella tendon,” Broussard insisted. “He will only play probably six of the eight games but he will be fine for the playoffs, and the Clippers are going to be trouble.”

Wright envisaged a far lighter schedule, especially in the early part of the return to the hardwood.

“He’s certainly not going to play in their back-to-back, and now that home court doesn’t matter, he is almost assuredly going to sit multiple games in the first eight because seeding doesn’t matter as much to the Clippers,” Wright said. “I guess this is just the new normal for Kawhi Leonard.”

The Clippers have the most games with multiple days in between them. The Clippers have the most total days off. Coincidence?@getnickwright doesn’t think so: pic.twitter.com/V5EMVI5Qd1

— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) July 14, 2020

FiveThirtyEight.com rates the Clippers as second favorites overall, behind the Lakers, giving them a 35 percent chance of reaching the NBA Finals and a 23 percent shot at winning it all.

While Rivers’ squad is deep and united, with Paul George an excellent foil, consensus suggests that Leonard will need to perform at his best if the first title in franchise history is to be captured.

So how does Leonard himself feel?

These guys have the best playoff win percentage out of all the players in the bubble 😤💯

Will any of them be taking home a title this year? pic.twitter.com/JZuO4dA5Sv

— The Association on FOX (@TheAssociation) July 13, 2020

“You usually have three months and then come in for a training camp, have a couple practices, then you’ve got the preseason games,” Leonard told reporters. “That’s pretty much the mindset. But like everybody knows, you only get eight games to get ready for the postseason. “

“Everybody knows their body and knows what they need to do, so we’re going to go out and see how I feel and then just go from there.”

Did that tell you what you need to know? Nope, didn’t think so. The Clippers are keeping their cards close and their statements even tighter. They could be playing possum, and Leonard might be ready to explode into life at 100 percent effectiveness. Or, the knee could be worse than imagined, and creating smoke and mirrors is a good way to deflect from it.

One way or another, he is likely to be the biggest difference maker of this postseason. We just don’t know which way that is.

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