The last time LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard spoke to the media was following Game 4 of the team's Western Conference Semifinals series against the Utah Jazz, where he left the contest early in the final minutes due to an injury.
"I'm good, next question," Leonard stated when asked about the injury.
Turns out, it would be the last time Leonard would take the floor in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. He was later diagnosed with a partially torn right ACL, an injury that required surgery in the offseason.
Leonard had a massive offseason looming, facing a $36.0 million player option. There was some thought that Leonard's injury would lead him to picking up his option and entering unrestricted free agency in 2022 when fully healthy, but he elected to decline his option and field offers.
In turn, Leonard signed a four-year, $176.3 million contract to stick with the Clippers, committing to LA long term.
But without much of an update following the surgery, the superstar's status was foggy as the 2021-22 NBA season drew near. However, Leonard was made available at Clippers Media Day on Monday, where he provided an update on his injury status and spoke on his decision in free agency.
"The best situation for me, to me, was to do a (one year and player option) and then opt out and sign a five-year deal. But that creates a lot of concern for (the media) and your job and creates storylines that I'm going to leave the team," Leonard stated bluntly before going on to explain his rationale.
"One thing, I wanted to secure some money and I wanted to be able to come back if I was able to this year. If I had taken the one-plus-one, I probably would not have played just to be cautious and opted out, into the fire.
"I'm here. I'm here to be a Clipper. I'm not going to another team, unless something drastic happens. I'm here for the long run."
Even without Leonard after Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Clippers still made their first run to a Conference Finals in franchise history. Placing themselves two wins away from the ever-elusive NBA Finals stage, Leonard's injury leaves a major "what if" as to what could have happened if he was healthy.
Will the Clippers get some closure on that this season? That is still to be determined, as Leonard gave the media an update on his injury status.
According to ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk, Leonard described his injury as "day to day" when asked if he'll return during the 2021-22 season. He also stated that the biggest challenge was being injured when he didn't feel like he was injured.
Head coach Tyronn Lue gave a more clear - and realistic - update on Leonard's injury status, first joking that he hopes his star forward will be ready by opening night, before stating that they don't want to put any pressure on his return.
"If it's next season, it's next season. We don't want to force him to come back too early," coach Lue said.
Although it's not the clearest of updates, it was informative to hear from Leonard at Media Day and get a read on his status for the upcoming season and insight on his free agency decision.
Stick with NBA.com for any other updates regarding the injury of the two-time Finals MVP as the season goes on.
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