10. Kawhi Leonard
(cracks knuckles) I hope you enjoyed the history lessons, cultural commentary, and international analysis. But let’s get down to business. Kawhi Leonard has overstayed his welcome.
Leonard is a generational talent and the 34th-best player in the history of the league according to the NBA 75 list. But he has already missed essentially two of the four total playoff runs the team has made in his time there, playing only two games this year before consigning the Clippers to oblivion.
I would never imply that it is a player’s fault that they got injured, but I would absolutely imply that Leonard’s communication and accountability with the team throughout has been positively abominable. The lack of clarity about his injury status for games three, four, and five of the Suns series felt like a replay of his chaotic injury timeline during the 2021-2022 season, which he missed in its entirety.
Leonard has not sniffed playing 60 games since coming to Los Angeles, and the team is on the books for $45 and $48 million for the next two years. His injury history and massive body of playoff success make him sound like he’s 38 years old and ready to enter a desk job, but he’s only 31. NBA history says a guy like this should have 3-4 good years left in him, especially with how his style of play is not particularly demanding physically.
But the cultural detriment of Leonard is beginning to show itself. I question how committed a team can be toward winning when their quote-unquote leader seems uninterested in playing in games. Load management is important for getting guys across the finish line, but also sends the wrong message to the rest of the team.
Leonard is like the Small Forward Who Cried Wolf. It’s hard to take his absences seriously since they are so frequent. He’s not a very public guy, but that has the unfortunate byproduct of seeming like he’s so-so about winning in Los Angeles.
Even with all that said, getting Leonard in 2019—when most considered him the best player in the world—is a deal the Clippers would do again if they could. As with Marcus Morris, this is a preemptive strike against a new extension. Resigning Kawhi to a mega deal before he hits free agency in 2025 would be an apocalypse. Don’t do it. Do not.