Clippers' Kawhi Leonard, Paul George entering camp 'fully healthy'

September 27, 2023, 9:09 PM

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- LA Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are "fully healthy" entering next week's training camp in Hawaii, according to Lawrence Frank, the team's president of basketball operations.

Leonard played in the first two games of the Clippers' first-round playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns before being sidelined with a torn right meniscus. He underwent a cleanup procedure on the meniscus June 6. George is fully recovered from a right knee sprain that kept him out of the first round.

"Both are fully healthy," Frank said at the team facility Wednesday. "I think both have had extremely productive offseasons, and obviously our two best players are totally invested in doing special things for the Clippers. They show it with their actions, so I think we're really excited that they're both fully healthy and will be full participants in camp."

Frank also said there have been discussions with the two Clippers franchise players concerning contract extensions. Both stars, who grew up near Los Angeles and wanted to play here, each have $48 million player options for the 2024-25 season and are eligible to sign four-year extensions worth up to $223 million each, according to ESPN NBA front office insider Bobby Marks.

"We're still trying to maximize Kawhi and PG's window and take advantage of it," Frank said. "We've had consistent ongoing conversations with both of them [since they were extension-eligible] and their representatives, and at the appropriate time we're hopeful that they remain Clippers."

Frank added: "Hopefully we've created an environment where not only guys want to come, they want to stay. And we have a pretty good track record of being able to keep guys. So it will be a process and we'll just be candid with each other. But we're hopeful that we can continue to build around those guys and they remain Clippers."

The Clippers are entering a pivotal season in which they have much to prove. The Leonard-George era is entering its fifth season, but the two stars have largely been unable to stay healthy together. The Clippers had their stars together for only 38 games last season because of injuries. When they are healthy, LA has been successful. In their four seasons together so far, Leonard and George have played in a total of 142 regular-season and postseason games combined with the Clippers going 96-46. The Clippers made it to the Western Conference finals in 2021, but Leonard tore his ACL during the second round.

The Clippers highly value head coach Ty Lue and picked up his option, giving him two years left on his contract. But Lue did not receive a new deal, and Leonard and George have yet to sign extensions. While Frank said "we all have something to prove," he insists that the lack of new deals for Leonard, George and Lue is not "a warning shot" entering the season.

"In terms of with T-Lue, he has two years [on his deal]," Frank said. "We love T-Lue, we want T-Lue to be coach here for a long time. He's one of the elite coaches in this league and there's always a timing for things like that.

"PG and Kawhi, we have very, very candid conversations in terms of the goal is to keep them as Clippers. So it's not a warning shot. But I think all of us, me included, you feel a tremendous amount of responsibility and you take ownership for your piece of the pie, of how we each can do better."

The Clippers have been linked to the Sixers concerning a possible trade for James Harden this summer, but sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Aug. 12 that no traction on a deal materialized before the Sixers ended trade talks. Harden's preference is to join the Clippers.

Frank was asked if the Clippers are in a wait-and-see mode for the possibility of improving the team via trade.

"I'd answer it this way -- one, we like our group," Frank said. "You are always looking for ways to get better, both individually, as a team. ... From our standpoint, we'll always be aggressive trying to find ways to improve the team.

"The timelines are the timelines. I like our group, our approach. But we will always look for ways to get better." 

Much of the Clippers' success this season will hinge on their health. Besides both of his stars being healthy at the start of camp, Frank said that Leonard wants to play and will "attack everything" when healthy. Frank was asked how the NBA's new player participation policy, which states that teams must ensure no more than one star player is unavailable for the same game, will impact how the Clippers and Leonard approach back-to-back games.

The team was cautious with Leonard entering last season after he missed the entire previous year because of an ACL injury. But he then experienced stiffness in his surgically repaired knee, which cost him 12 games. He later suffered a sprained right ankle that cost him six more games early in the season.

"Kawhi missed 21 of the first 26 [games]," Frank said. "If Kawhi doesn't have the injury, he's playing 65, 68 games [last season]. So it wasn't a case of, 'Hey, we're just resting him -- he's coming off an ACL.'

Frank added: "So in terms of this situation, let's go through training camp and then we'll sit down [and figure Leonard's plan for this season]. But Kawhi wants to play. When he's healthy, he always does play and we're just hoping that he has good fortune, he's healthy and we're optimistic he will be."