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Kawhi Leonard has been cleared for full participation in Clippers training camp, but team will be ‘cautious’ with his health

Kawhi Leonard hasn’t played in an NBA game since June of 2021.

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As the downright intolerable, now-former Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge once said, “He’s back!”

Well, almost.

Fudge was talking about Lord Voldemort — yeah, I said it — who he had just laid his own two eyes on as the sinister wizard stood over a half-stunned Harry Potter in the main lobby of the Ministry of Magic. The moment Voldemort sensed a presence he hadn’t planned on meeting in said lobby, the Dark Lord apparated (read: vanished into thin air), but not before Fudge saw him. Here, he uttered this terrifying realization, fighting a quivering lip and what I believe to be the beginnings of a panic attack to note the obvious; something that people, namely Potter himself, had been attempting to make him understand for years.

This is precisely how I imagine the other 29 NBA teams responded to Thursday’s report that Los Angeles Clippers’ All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard has been cleared for full participation when the team heads to training camp next week. According to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be catching lobs from John Wall on day one (Hence the aforementioned “almost”).

The team “will proceed with ‘step-by-step’ caution”, Youngmisuk writes, though he does later note that full participation means Leonard will be running in five-on-fives, presumably Leonard’s first organized action since June 14, 2021, the game in which he tore his ACL, ending his season (It was a Monday, I remember that. I did not recall that “Butter” by BTS was atop the Billboard 100 at that time. I have never heard of this song).

“He feels great,” Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said at the team’s practice facility. “His plan is, look, he wants to participate in everything. And I think organizationally, we’re going to be cautious. So it will be a step-by-step approach.

“He is cleared. For him, he’ll say, look, I want to do everything,” Frank continued. “Again, we’ll be very cautious in the approach... When you’re dealing with a major injury, you can’t predict. I know with him, he wants to do everything, but we’ll just kind of see how he feels each day. We have an outstanding medical team, and we’re playing the long game with it. So we’re not going to get into predictions, what he will do or he won’t do.”

LA Clippers v Golden State Warriors
Leonard joined the Clippers in 2019-20 but has only played in 109 possible games with the team due to various injuries and rest.
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Per Youngmisuk’s report, Frank noted that Leonard has participated in controlled basketball for some time now as he recovers, and while five-on-five action is being considered the benchmark, “it’s more complicated than that.” The goal, obviously, is for Leonard to play in an NBA game. Training camp is being considered the first step in that possibly longer than what would be considered ideal, but still very necessary process.

While there was speculation that Leonard might return for a playoff run last season if he made enough progress in his rehab, he remained sidelined, and the Clippers’ championship run failed to launch before it could even think of setting the proper coordinates.

But sights were always set on what Leonard’s eventual return promised. When Leonard went down with his injury, the team’s most exciting players were Paul George and Terance Mann (okay, so he was the most exciting player to me, fine). But since Kawhi last played NBA basketball, the Clippers have added 31 seasons and 138 playoff games worth of experience in Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and John Wall. (Not to mention another player with championship experience; Leonard and Powell won the title together in 2019 while with the Toronto Raptors).

Speaking of those exciting mainstays and additions, Frank had this to say on the topic of Paul George’s injury — a UCL tear in his right elbow that caused him to miss three months last season:

“His elbow is 100 percent healthy. Paul has had an extremely purposeful, driven, and very productive off-season, in that his consistency of training has been off the charts. Plus, he continues to take more and more of an ownership and leadership role. You know, he had a lot to do with getting John Wall to come here.”

“We know what the big picture is,” Frank said. “We know what our goal is, and we will be very cautious and take a methodical approach.”