Kawhi Leonard is finally healthy enough to suit up for the Clippers, but he wasn't on the court for Thursday's opening tip against the Lakers.
The two-time Finals MVP was not a member of his team's starting lineup, coming off the bench for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
TNT's Chris Haynes first reported that the Clippers were considering bringing Leonard off the bench "in order to manage his minutes," and they ultimately decided to follow through with that plan.
Why did Clippers coach Tyronn Lue make this surprising decision?
Why did Kawhi Leonard come off the bench?
Clippers head coach Ty Lue explained pregame that the Clippers were taking a cautious approach with Leonard to start the season.
"Just want to have him for the end of the game, if we need him," Lue said, per ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk.
"Just for him, he wanted to do whatever is best for the team. And I just thought whatever is best for him, whatever makes him feel better. Being out for 15 months, what was the best thing for him as far as health wise and how he would feel."
After being sidelined for so long, the Clippers will look to slowly integrate their leading man into the lineup, however, according to Lue, they will adjust their approach as Leonard regains fitness.
"He hasn't played in 15-16 months," Lue added. "We can't expect him to be great every night. He has to understand that as well. It's going to be a process. There are going to be some times where he looks like Kawhi Leonard, there are going to be some times where he is just trying to get a feel and not playing well."
How many times has Kawhi Leonard come off the bench in his career?
Before Thursday's game, Leonard had been a reserve just 27 times in his career. His last off-the-bench appearance came on Nov. 10, 2013, when he scored 18 points for the Spurs in a 120-89 win over the Knicks.
Leonard has never come off the bench during the NBA Playoffs, starting in 135 postseason games.
Clippers schedule 2022-23
Here are the Clippers' next 10 games following their matchup with the Lakers:
|Date||Opponent||Time (ET)||TV channel|
|Oct. 22||at Kings||10 p.m.||—|
|Oct. 23||vs. Suns||10 p.m.||NBA TV|
|Oct. 25||at Thunder||8 p.m.||—|
|Oct. 27||at Thunder||8 p.m.||—|
|Oct. 30||vs. Pelicans||3 p.m.||—|
|Oct. 31||vs. Rockets||10:30 p.m.||—|
|Nov. 2||at Rockets||8 p.m.||—|
|Nov. 4||at Spurs||8 p.m.||—|
|Nov. 6||vs. Jazz||10 p.m.||—|
|Nov. 7||vs. Cavaliers||10:30 p.m.||NBA TV|