On his first Media Day with the LA Clippers, Leonard said his health is considerably better now than it was entering last season with the Raptors, when he was coming off a quad injury and having played a total of nine games in San Antonio during the 2017-18 season.
“It’s different this season,” Leonard said after being asked how his health will be managed this season. “Last year, I was going in with an injury that I was dealing with the year before, still was lingering, and we knew that I had to be healthy going throughout the season and making it to the playoffs.
“This time, I’m feeling good,” Leonard continued. “I’m feeling way better than I was at the start of last season. There really was no plan laid out to discuss with everyone.”
Last season, Leonard played a total of 60 regular-season games for the Raptors and averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. Leonard then led the Raptors to their first NBA title, averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 postseason games, and was the Finals MVP. Leonard said he could not have done that without the Raptors’ load-management plan.
But Leonard said he is feeling much better as he enters his first season with the Clippers. The more Leonard and Paul George — who is coming off surgeries on both his shoulders — play, the more formidable Doc Rivers’ defense will be. Rivers has two of the best two-way players in the game in Leonard and George to go with the tenacious Patrick Beverley among others.
“It’s going to be scary,” George said of the Clippers’ defensive versatility. “With myself, [Montrezl Harrell], Kawhi, Pat, [Landry Shamet], Mo [Harkless], Rodney [McGruder], we’ve really got a chance to do something special on the defensive end. … Watching Pat get out there and picking somebody up 94 feet, that’s going to get me going. It’s going to get Kawhi going. It’s just going to become contagious on a nightly basis. I honestly think, for the first time, people are going to be excited to watch the defensive end as opposed to watching the offensive [end].”
Beverley said the additions of Leonard and George will make the Clippers’ scrappy, underdog mentality feel like it’s “on steroids.”
Asked if he will consider playing for Team USA next summer, Leonard said he is focused on one thing right now.
“I do want to play, but I’m taking it one step at a time,” Leonard said. “And right now, it is getting the Clippers to the Finals.”