For the past two seasons, Kawhi Leonard has been the frontman for the Los Angeles Clippers, but hasn’t been able to bring the franchise a title just yet. After an early exit in last year’s bubble, the stoic superstar went down with a fairly serious knee sprain this month and has missed the entirety of the team’s Western Conference Finals series.
When he has been on the court, Leonard is the clear No. 1 option on the Clippers. However, Stephen A. Smith isn’t sold that he’s the best player to build around for the franchise’s future.
“I don’t know if it’s in the Clippers best interest to keep him,” Smith said of Leonard, prior to Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals between the Suns and the Clippers.
The ESPN host expanded on his point, citing Leonard’s nagging injury history and the emergence of Terrence Mann as reasons for the organization to at least consider the possibility of parting ways with the All-NBA forward.
“Let me be clear about something. Kawhi Leonard is a top-five talent in this game. He is elite. But when you take into account the load management, when you take into account that his personality doesn’t actually gravitate towards leadership… then you combine that with the fact that he’s not necessarily reliable, at least this postseason. He hasn’t gotten any younger or what have you. You look at the elevation of Terrence Mann, this second year player, who clearly is not on Kawhi’s level, but if you look at the athleticism, the youth, the fervor, the “want it” mentality… and you’re talking about building a culture then I’m sorry. I think that it’s something that [Steve] Balmer and the crew have to think about long term.”
“I don’t know if it’s in the Clippers best interest to keep him [Kawhi Leonard].”
– Stephen A. Smith
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) June 29, 2021
Leonard, 30, has a player option worth $36 million for the 2021-22 season, which gives him an out, should he want it. If the Clippers do determine that it’s in their best interest to let the two-time Finals MVP walk, they’ll need to go back to the drawing board with how they’re planning to build out the roster.
Since he burst onto the scene with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard has clearly been a different breed of NBA star. A departure from the Clippers after two playoff berths would be just his latest stunning career move.