Kawhi PG & the Playoffs?

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Updated: March 26, 2022
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Out Indefinitely: (out) for an unlimited or unspecified period of time.

Possibly the most overused and least descriptive diagnosis for a player’s injury and timetable for return, but out indefinitely may be the only terminology that honestly has depicted the Kawhi Leonard experience. Even after the initial injury in the postseason, never was he entirely ruled out for return and yet nearly a calendar year later he remains sidelined…indefinitely. Whether it is an unlimited amount of time or simply unspecified, the latter may have grave implications for not only the upcoming playoffs but for the league as a whole.

The Los Angeles Clippers sit quite comfortably as the current 8th seed with a near 500-record at 26 & 28. Six games behind the Wolves at 7 but 4 and a half games ahead of the Pelicans and Lakers, the Clips’ position for the play-in game is nearly mathematically solidified. In the depths of the Western Conference, Ty Lu has manufactured these wins despite only having Paul George for 26 games this season and Kawhi for zero of them. For most trade enthusiasts immersed in the machine back in late January and early February, the assumption was the Clippers were essentially punting on the year and would likely part with their rotation pieces for the right price.

Instead, Balmer’s front office went and bought up Norman Powell and Robert Covington from the Blazers. Despite RoCo possibly being the worst player in the league who relentlessly is called by his nickname, the acquisition of Powell implies that the assumption of the white flag for the Clippers season might be a questionable presumption. Especially since recent reports have stated that PG-13 will return soon prior to the playoffs and Kawhi “could” return if they survive the play-in. Imagine being the 1st or 2nd seed of the strong Western Conference, consistently racking up W’s to secure homecourt advantage throughout the postseason, only to begin ones’ route to the Finals with a fully loaded Kawhi driven Clippers squad.

The bigger question though that is a detrimental concern to the Adam Silver Administration, is what if the Clippers made the Finals? Basically riding their B-team through the regular season, load managing PG13 while Kawhi completed neglected the 82 game season, only to enter the playoffs locked, loaded, and rested…it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Forget the rests on the back ends of the back-to-backs or the extended rests on the rolled ankles, the Klaw takes off the 82-game season as a paid 6-month vacation only to raise havoc this summer with a horror movie ending of top seed upset after upset.

Is it the likely outcome? Absolutely not. We have yet to see Kawhi play a single minute in nearly 365 days and nothing about this roster screams title favorites. Though the idea that a healthy Clippers squad is more than dangerous is a sentiment that many across the pods have shared over the last few weeks. The likelihood of this occurring has recently been put back into question.

In the last episode of the Mismatch on the Ringer, Kevin O’Connor took nearly 5 minutes of his pod to emphasize the point that he has yet to rule out Kawhi’s return. As an addict of having the right take and still trying to recover from the Killian Hayes #1 prospect pick two drafts back, KOC rarely speaks out of pocket for no particular reason. Connected with several inside sources, ones he tends to protect by dishing out his takes in these subliminal messages, unlike his predecessor Bill Simmons who loves to flaunt his inside-under-the-table info.

The vagueness of the take implies that his source and those close to Kawhi are still on the fence about his return. However, since reports have stated the specific detail that he may return if they make it through the play-in, it implies he is ready to play. Not that he isn’t injured, Kawhi has in many people’s opinion, been playing semi-injured ever since his infamous exit from San Antonio. The lower half of his body and basketball simply do not agree with one another, and yet, even with these physical limitations, when on the floor and playing at 90% health, he is without a doubt, a tier-1 isolation scorer. Most importantly, he is on the very short list of tier-1 4th quarter killers in crunch time. Although he will never again be the historic lockdown defender he once was in Texas and probably won’t be the wing guarding-up on the weight class who covered Giannis in his Toronto take over, as a brilliant-minded defender, he will never be a liability on that end of the floor.

What commissioner Adam Silver fears is not that the Clippers win their first NBA Finals on the back of the coldblooded mercenary known as Kawhi Leonard. The story itself of a player coming back from a yearlong injury only to conquer the West and emerge victorious against the East would be the story of the year in sports. It is the precedent that it would set for NBA superstars moving forward and how this event would solidify the fact that the 82-game regular season’s value is a farce.

Now for system-based teams like Curry’s Warriors or Giannis’ Bucks, this method would most likely burn up flames. Chemistry building and cohesiveness are essential to the development of most great teams and the idea of their best player sitting out for the season only to emerge from the ashes in late spring is a fairytale that would undoubtedly have negative repercussions. However, for players who fit the mold of a pure ISO scorer, who really only needs a good defense and shooters around them, could teams be constructed to be good enough in their absence to scrape into the play-in game, and allow their rested ISO God to lead them to promise land?

There is a scenario that could hypothetically play out next year which would fit even for a system-style player with CP3 and the Phoenix Suns. Now if up to Chris Paul, being the competitor that he is and cut from an entirely different cloth than Kawhi, he would play every minute of every game if he was allowed. But let’s just observe the scenario as a mold for the future. Devon Booker and the Suns have proven in CP3’s absence to still be at the very least a top 3 team in the West. If next year, they simply planned to sit Paul through the 82-game season, still practicing with the team, staying in shape, coaching even, but not logging a single minute of regular season play to prep for the playoffs with claims of a hip or hamstring issue, would that not be in the Suns’ best interest?

With this example, we could see how dangerous a Kawhi led playoff run to the Finals could become for the league at large. Especially if the first-round results were a fully rested Clippers team knocking out a still semi-injured Chris Paul in round 1…or if the now free to play, well-rested Irving helps carry Brooklyn to a title…would either of these events force the league to reconsider their fixation with 82.

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