By Shams Charania, Law Murray and Greg Scholz
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard has been diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his right knee, league sources say Athleticism Wednesday. Here’s what you need to know:
- Leonard missed the final three games of Los Angeles’ first-round loss to Phoenix.
- In the first two games, he averaged 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 40 minutes per game.
- Leonard injured the same knee in the 2021 playoffs and later had it surgically repaired, costing him the 2021-22 season.
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What this means for the Clippers
Leonard waited two years to return to the NBA playoffs after surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL suffered in the 2021 playoffs caused him to miss the entire 2021-22 season. Seeing Leonard struggling with another serious knee injury is disheartening to say the least.
Of course, others said more than the least. The fact that anyone would expect Leonard, who also treated quadriceps tendinopathy, to play with this type of injury is ridiculous. Paul George, struggling with his own right knee injury, said those who thought Leonard was just sitting ‘attacked his character’ while echoing the team’s explanation that Leonard was injured in the game 1 in the series and had survived the injury in Game 2. .
The Clippers usually don’t say much about the severity of Leonard’s injuries until after the playoffs. Two years ago, a sprained knee turned out to be a partially torn ACL that required surgery. Today, Leonard’s “sprained right knee” is the kind of injury that typically requires surgery that takes months to heal.
Ideally, Leonard will be ready to return to basketball in one to two months, giving him most of the summer to prepare for next season. But there will once again be questions about his willingness to play at the start of the 2023-24 season as his knee responds to any proper treatment. — Murray
What is the meniscus and what happens when it is torn?
The meniscus is a kind of small, crescent-shaped piece of cartilage that sits between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone). There are two menisci in each knee. The meniscus helps stabilize the knee joint and absorbs shock during movement. It is a very crucial role. In a way, it’s a bit like the shocks on a car.
A meniscus tear often results from sudden twisting or pivoting movements. Players may note a “bursting sensation” when torn. It should be noted that the menisci weaken over time as we age or put more stress on them.
Symptoms usually include your pain, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty extending/bending your knee. —Scholz
What does recovery look like?
As with any injury, recovery depends primarily on severity. In the case of basketball players, if the tear is minor and treated non-surgically, a player can return in four to six weeks. However, if surgery is necessary, recovery can take three to six months.
There are concerns about future performance after a meniscus tear, especially in the second case described above, where the tear is more severe and surgery has been required. In these scenarios, players tend to experience things like persistent pain, stiffness, or instability in the knee. These symptoms can directly impact things like agility, speed, etc. —Scholz
Are the prospects worse due to Leonard’s other injuries to the same knee?
Yes, the risk or concern is increased. Kawhi had a partially torn ACL in his right knee (late 2021 cost him 2022). Now the meniscus tear is in the same knee; which increases the likelihood of complications or ongoing problems with that knee. The NBA offseason is typically around 20 weeks, which is a solid recovery window. Some potential results:
- Full recovery: The ideal scenario. Kawhi is back to her previous level of performance and has no significant ongoing issues with her knee. It would take diligent rehabilitation, consistent medical treatment, and (honestly) some degree of luck.
- Leonard starts slow or misses early games: Leonard could enter the 2023-24 season with a few lingering issues, such as the aforementioned stiffness, reduced agility or minor pain in his right knee. They should improve gradually over the season, provided he maintains a rehabilitation program to work on strengthening and conditioning the knee.
- Load management: Kawhi is likely to miss games in 2023-24, citing ‘load management’. It’s a lot hectic these days, but Leonard will need it.
- Drop in performance: If he continues to struggle with the injury, but decides to play, there will be a noticeable change in his game. Less agility, less explosiveness and he probably won’t trust the knee 100% . This would affect him at both ends of the floor. — Scholz
After winning Game 1 behind Leonard’s 38 points, the Clippers took on the Suns competitively in Game 2 with his 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Without Leonard for the past three games, LA had no answers for Phoenix stars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, who averaged 37.2 and 28.4 points per game in the series.
Leonard, 31, played 50 games in 2022-23 as he made his slow comeback from the right knee injury he suffered in July 2021 in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Clippers co-star George missed the entire first round due to his own knee injury. He sprained his right knee in March.
George also missed 43 games in 2021-22 with an elbow injury. Without their two stars for most of the season, the Clippers went 42-40.
Leonard hasn’t played more than 60 games in a season since 2016-17. He will enter the third year of his four-year contract in 2023-24 and has a $48 million player option for 2024-25.
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today)