Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is bullish about his side's prospects for the 2022-23 season with the return of Kawhi Leonard.

The Clippers reached the Conference Finals for the first time in 2021, but missed the playoffs in 2022 with Leonard absent for the entire campaign due to an ACL injury.

Leonard sustained the injury in Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Utah Jazz.

Paul George was also restricted to only 31 games in the 2021-22 season with a niggling elbow injury, as they finished with a 42-40 record.

The Clippers are expected to be boosted by Leonard and George both having a clean bill of health while point guard John Wall is set to join in a free-agent deal after he reached a buy-out agreement with the Houston Rockets.

"I think the sky is the limit for our team," Ballmer said. "It'll be our effort, our energy.

"Of course, you got to have a little good luck to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy, which is what we really like.

"I think if we stay healthy next year we are going to be having a chance to talk way late into the [postseason]."

Leonard, who is a two-time NBA Finals MVP (2014 and 2019), looms large as the key to the Clippers' chances.

The 31-year-old small forward averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and a career-high 5.2 assists per game in the 2020-21 regular season. He averaged a career-high 27.1 points in his first season with the Clippers in 2019-20.

"[Leonard is] not only your best player but one of the preeminent handful of top players in the world," Ballmer said.

"I am really excited about that. Kawhi's in the gym. He's working, and we got our fingers crossed everything keeps going on schedule."

The Clippers also confirmed on Tuesday that they had signed a three-year $33 million contract extension with center Ivica Zubac.

Michael Jordan has company at last.

The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

 

James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

 

Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

The Los Angeles Clippers will play no part in this year's playoffs, but coach Ty Lue still believes they "can be special" next season.

The Clippers finished eighth in the West to enter the Play-In tournament, only to fall short of the postseason with consecutive defeats.

After losing 109-104 to the Minnesota Timberwolves with Paul George in the lineup, the seven-time All-Star was in health and safety protocols for Friday's make-or-break 105-101 defeat at home to the New Orleans Pelicans.

George's absence was a cruel blow for the Clippers, not that playing without him is a new experience.

Injury limited George to 31 games this year – in which he averaged a team-leading 24.3 points – but that was 31 more games than the team got out of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who is still recovering from a partial ACL tear in last season's playoff run.

Even Norman Powell, signed in February, suffered a setback and could play only limited minutes in a bench role after returning ahead of the play-in games.

Since the Clippers signed George and Leonard ahead of the 2019-20 season, they have played together in only 104 games across the regular season and playoffs.

The Clippers have a 72-32 (.692) record in those games, versus 83-71 (.539) in the 154 when one of their superstars is missing.

For that reason, Lue can retain some optimism as they hope to have Leonard back for 2022-23.

"We get our main guys back, we can be dangerous," he said after the Pelicans game. "Health is part of it. We've got to stay healthy, continue to work.

"When you get Kawhi back, a top-five player, PG, a perennial All-Star, your team changes tremendously.

"Guys who have taken on bigger roles this year, who have never been in this position before, they can kind of fall back into their original roles.

"We could be very different with those two guys back and healthy. We can be special."

The Pelicans have themselves missed a big name this year, with former first overall pick Zion Williamson joining Leonard in sitting out the entire season to date.

In his stead, C.J. McCollum and, particularly in the play-in tournament, Brandon Ingram have stepped up to lead the Pelicans into a first-round series against title favourites the Phoenix Suns.

Ingram has averaged 18.5 points per game for his career and 22.7 in the regular season this year but 28.5 across play-in wins over the San Antonio Spurs and the Clippers.

His 30 led the team on Friday, prompting high praise from coach Willie Green.

"Brandon Ingram is the truth," Green said. "He just brought it. He had that look in his eye from the time we got on the plane. Shootaround, he's been locked in. He has been waiting for this moment, for this type of moment."

Los Angeles Clippers wing Norman Powell feels his team are a threat in this year's playoffs – and Kawhi Leonard is looking strong.

Powell returned in style from two months on the sideline, scoring 24 points off the bench in the Clippers' 113-109 home win against the Phoenix Suns.

The 2019 champion with the Toronto Raptors suffered a broken foot in an early-February matchup against the Dallas Mavericks but showed no ill effects as he scored six-of-10 field-goal attempts, including going three-of-four from long range, and nine-of-10 from the free throw line.

Despite Clippers star Leonard missing the entire season so far with his recovery from a torn ACL and co-star Paul George only playing 29 games, Los Angeles are somehow 40-40 through 80 games and locked into the Western Conference eight seed.

Speaking with ESPN, Powell said it was a successful return from injury.

"The foot has been feeling good," he said. "The medical staff wanted to give me a few test games, stay-ready games leading up to the game tonight, seeing how it would respond to the extra workload. 

"It was feeling great. Tonight it feels great... I thought it was a good first game after being out for two months."

Powell went on to speak about the threat his side poses in a postseason setting.

"I think we can be really dangerous," he said. "Paul George drives a lot of attention on the floor, and when me and him and [Marcus Morris Sr.] and Reggie [Jackson] are all on the floor, we've got so many weapons.

"I just think we have weapons at every position, and I can take the pressure off those guys if need be, being a ball-handler as well. 

"It reminds me of that 2019 [Raptors] team. We were able to do that with Pascal [Siakam], with Marc [Gasol], with Serge [Ibaka], Kawhi, Danny [Green], Kyle [Lowry], me, Fred [VanVleet]. 

"What we had, we were able to give them different lineups throughout the course of the game, whatever the game is dictating, to go big, defense, with length."

While George's return from a long-term elbow injury has already given the Clippers a punchers' chance, Powell gave an update on Leonard, who would completely change the team's expectations if he was to declare himself fit for the playoffs.

"I've just [been] asking [Leonard] how he feels, where his head is at," he said.

"He feels good. Seeing him being able to work out, put some shots up, things like that, I think his rehab is trending in the right direction. 

"As you know, and everybody else, you are not going to get too much information out of Kawhi. They keep everything [under] wraps, but I know he is feeling good and his rehab is progressing."

Norman Powell ended up on the losing side in his Los Angeles Clippers debut but showed exactly what his new team can expect from him moving forward.

Powell joined the Clippers last week in a five-player trade with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Fellow two-way wing Robert Covington headed to LA with Powell, while the Blazers received Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a 2025 second-round draft pick.

Portland look to be building for the future, and the Clippers are too – to an extent.

With Paul George and Kawhi Leonard out injured and uncertain to return this year, a 2021-22 title challenge appears to be off the cards. The Clippers are eighth in the West.

Moving forward into next season, however, with two superstars returning, both Powell and Covington should improve the team.

Powell's Clippers bow suggested as much, as he scored 28 points from the bench in Sunday's 137-113 defeat to defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Literally for all my career, I have been in every single role on the team," Powell said afterwards.

"[I have been] the guy fighting and scratching trying to get into the rotation, being in a rotation, being taken out of a rotation, playing alongside Kyle [Lowry] and DeMar [DeRozan], playing alongside Kyle and Kawhi, playing off of them [in Toronto].

"So, I think I can fit perfectly in here, with PG and Kawhi."

The 28-year-old, who signed a five-year, $90million deal last August, is scoring a career-high 18.9 points per game this year.

Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said: "We never thought it was realistic for us to get a player like Norm Powell for a team that won't have salary cap space for a long, long, long time.

"It's really, really hard to get players like Norm, who are under a long-term deal, who are in their prime.

"Norm's ability as a three-level scorer – the fact that when he's playing off the ball, he's such a prolific catch-and-shoot player – really, really, complements Kawhi and PG."

Covington, who had 13 points in his debut, added: "[I am] beyond excited.

"[The trade] is going to make us dynamic – more dynamic than what we already are – and it's going to be scary defensively."

The Los Angeles Clippers are uncertain if injured star pair Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will return this season.

Two-time NBA Finals MVP Leonard has been out since June with a torn right ACL which forced him out of last season's playoffs.

George has missed the Clippers' past 22 games, having been sidelined with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right shooting elbow since December 22.

The Clippers made the 2020-21 Conference Finals but are 27-27 this season, with injuries taking their toll.

Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank conceded he was uncertain whether 30-year-old small forward Leonard would return this season.

"I think the best answer is we don't know," Frank said. "He grinds every single day. He works. His focus is on his rehab.

"No one knows. He doesn't know. But all you can do is, just every day, continue to control what you can control and see how he responds."

Clippers head coach Ty Lue had alarmingly mentioned on Thursday that they "know Kawhi's probably not gonna come back," but he moved to clarify that comment.

"Hope is stronger than fear," Lue said. "So I'm hoping that these two guys can come back. But you never know."

Seven-time All-Star George will undergo an MRI on his elbow on February 24 but Frank said that would dictate his return date.

"You don't treat the MRI, you treat the player," Frank said. "When the MRI comes in, it's not a 'boom' that all of a sudden is a 'Eureka' moment for what we do. I think it's just part of the process.

"I think it's you see how Paul is responding. He's feeling better each and every day. The MRI is another kind of benchmark.

"I think the doctors put it all together and that's how they come to what the next steps are. My expectation is regardless of what the MRI says, it's just part of it. That's not going to be the ultimate decision-maker in what happens."

The Los Angeles Clippers have confirmed All-Star Paul George will be out of action for three to four weeks with an elbow injury.

George suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will need to rest the injury prior to a re-evaluation in the next three to four weeks.

The Clippers, who made last season's Conference semi-finals, are 17-16 this season having been without two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard all campaign.

George hurt his elbow earlier this month before missing five games, but returned on December 20 against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers lost 103-100 to the Denver Nuggets without George on Sunday.

The Los Angeles Clippers have confirmed All-Star Paul George will be out of action for three to four weeks with an elbow the injury.

George suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will need to rest the injury prior to a re-evaluation in the next three to four weeks.

The Clippers, who made last season's Conference semi-finals, are 17-16 this season having been without Kawhi Leonard all campaign.

George hurt his elbow earlier this month before missing five games, but returned on December 20 against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers lost 103-100 to the Denver Nuggets without George on Sunday.

Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George will return for Monday's game against the San Antonio Spurs after a fortnight out with an elbow injury.

George has missed the Clippers' past five games due to a right elbow sprain. He last played on December 6 in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The seven-time NBA All-Star is averaging 25 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists across 24 games this season.

The 16-14 Clippers, who reached the Western Conference semifinals last season, have not been at full strength all season, with Kawhi Leonard still absent with an ACL knee injury, while Serge Ibaka, Jason Preston, Marcus Morris and Isaiah Hartenstein have all had issues too.

"It's frustrating," Clippers head coach Ty Lue said. "We can't get a rhythm of how we want to play when all of our guys are here.

"But everyone is dealing with the same thing, I am pretty sure ... but just having a chance to have our whole team for five, 10 games, just see how it looks going forward. ... But it is frustrating."

Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue welcomed the contributions of his supporting players as they helped Paul George lead the team to a sixth straight win.

The Clippers beat the Miami Heat 112-109 on Thursday to continue their streak. They have also now won six in a row against the Heat, their longest such sequence in this matchup since the teams' first meeting in 1988.

With Kawhi Leonard still on the sidelines, fellow All-Star George has been the Clippers' main man this season, with his usage rate up to 34.3 per cent.

He is averaging 26.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game – his best marks outside of his All-NBA First Team season in 2018-19. His 5.4 assists per game are a new high.

George had 27 points against Miami, again leading the team, but he also had a negative plus/minus (-1) for the first time in this winning run.

While the forward's 38 minutes ensured he remains the Clippers' most used player this year (388 mins), there were signs of fatigue and Lue called his man back to the bench in the third quarter.

Crucially, however, the Clippers had a positive point differential of four in the 10 minutes George sat in this game, prompting the coach to laud a team effort.

George was one of five players to score double-figures and one of three to pass 20 – also Reggie Jackson (22) and Eric Bledsoe (21).

"In that third quarter, PG was a little tired, so we had to get him out early," Lue said.

"That group we had on the floor increased the lead, so it bought him more time. It was just a total team win. We did a lot of great things."

Leonard's absence with an ACL tear represents a big blow to the Clippers, but they are now 7-4 this year as George excels.

However, when Leonard went down halfway through last season's playoff campaign, George improved from averaging 24.9 points per game to 29.6.

Indeed, since the pair joined the team together in 2019, George has 26.8 points across the regular season and postseason when Leonard is missing, versus 21.7 when his team-mate is also in the lineup.

This responsibility may suit George this year then, and asked how he was coping with the strain, he simply replied: "I'm still going, still going."

Kawhi Leonard revealed Monday he is hoping to play for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, and those aspirations were a factor in signing a four-year deal to remain with his hometown team this off-season. 

Leonard suffered a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Utah Jazz and had surgery July 13. 

A typical ACL return timetable would suggest Leonard is set to miss the entire upcoming season, but the 30-year-old was not willing to accept that as a given. 

That in turn led him to sign a four-year max extension worth more than $176million rather than take a one-year deal with a player option and opt out after this season to sign for five years. 

"I wanted to play," Leonard said at the team's pre-season media day. "I mean, the best situation for me to me was to do it one and one and then opt out and sign a long-term five-year deal, but there's a lot of concerns that that brings up for [the media] and your job and it creates storylines that I'm going to leave the team.

"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 would have took the one and one, I probably would have not played [this season] just to be cautious and opted out and took a five-year.

"I'm here. I'm here to be a Clipper. I'm not going to another team unless something drastic happens, but I'm here for the long run."

Optimistic as he is about being able to play this season, Leonard declined to try and put a timetable on when that might occur. 

He said his focus is day to day, working with the Clippers' medical staff on whatever he needs to do to get back on the court while helping the team however he can in the meantime. 

"That's the challenge of it, just seeing how quickly I can get better and how much stronger I can get than what I was when I'm healthy," Leonard said. "That's where I pretty much turn my mindset to.

"Now just watching games as a coach, being in the coaches' meetings and trying to make myself relevant as possible."

The Clippers' head coach, Tyronn Lue, said the team will "let him take his time and continue to do his rehab" and adjust whenever Leonard is ready to return. 

"I hope he comes back October 21st, but the reality is he's not going to be ready then," Lue said. "We don't want to force him or put any pressure on him. We want to make sure he's rehabbing, doing everything he can to get back as soon as possible, and if that's next season, that's next season.

"We don't want to force him to come back too early. We want to make sure he's 100 per cent when he does come back."

The NBA championship-chasing Los Angeles Clippers are unsure when Kawhi Leonard will return from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Tyronn Lue's Clippers will head into the 2021-22 season without superstar Leonard, who is expected to miss much of the campaign as he recovers from a partially torn ACL in his right knee.

Leonard underwent knee surgery after suffering the serious injury during the 2020-21 playoffs – the Clippers progressed to their first Western Conference Finals before falling to the Phoenix Suns.

Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank fielded questions on two-time NBA champion Leonard on Friday as the team gear up for the new season.

"Oh, we don't even broach that," Frank said when asked if he expects Leonard to play this season.

"I think at this point, it's just no one knows when you're dealing with a recovery from an ACL [injury], the time frame.

"Even just to save you guys [from asking] throughout the year, is no one knows. You just attack it day by day, he has a very detailed plan with a great group and we'll just let his body and the doctors tell us when it's the right time."

A five-time All-Star, Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The Clippers went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the regular season last term, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, the Clippers have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference Finals respectively in the past two seasons.

The Los Angeles Clippers remain "optimistic" about their chances in 2021-22 despite Kawhi Leonard's injury after the NBA franchise unveiled the team's new arena.

Leonard signed a four-year contract extension with the Clippers in the offseason, but the two-time champion is expected to miss much of the 2021-22 campaign as he recovers from a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.

It is a blow for the Clippers on the back of their first trip to the Western Conference Final last season, but owner Steve Ballmer is not prepared to take a backward step in Leonard's absence.

"Every year I want to win," Ballmer told ESPN. "Some people will talk about 'We're taking a step back' or 'We got an injured year.' No.

"Our fans can count on the fact that we are going to try to win as many ballgames as we can every year. Now, we took a little setback.

"We got to get Kawhi healthy. And when he's back, we're back at full strength."

Leonard suffered a serious knee injury during the 2020-21 playoffs, going down in the Western Conference Finals. Without him, the Clippers went on to lose the series 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns.

A five-time All-Star, Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The Clippers went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the regular season last term, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, the Clippers have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference Finals respectively in the past two seasons.

"It was painful," Ballmer said. "Painful for Kawhi, painful for our team, painful for me and, most importantly, painful for our fans. But yeah, we gave it a go. We gave it a good go. We managed to push past Utah, even without Kawhi.

"I was proud of our guys. We were within a whisker or two of taking care of business in the Western Conference Finals, even without Kawhi. We'll see when we get him back, but we basically have most of the same team back for next year. ... I remain optimistic."

Ballmer was speaking as the Clippers introduced their future home – Intuit Dome – which is scheduled to open ahead of the 2024-25 season as they move away from Staples Center, where the Los Angeles Lakers and NHL franchise the Los Angeles Kings also play.

"I've never been in a place where you had two teams in a town," Ballmer said. "I grew up in Detroit. Everybody's a Pistons fan. And I think for enough years the Clippers were bad enough, everybody could just ignore the Clippers.

"We're good now, and we're going to be good year in and year out. We're going to build our own building, more of our own identity, more of our own personality. And I think some of the fans on the other side, if you will, it's like, 'What? You dare to question our supremacy?' No, we do.

"There's 30 teams in the league. There's 29 others. And we got one that happens to be based in L.A. And we got our fans. We use our expression, 'LA Our Way.' And we're building our own presence, identity. And if the other guys feel a little threatened -- the other guys' fans, I mean; the players are actually a little different deal -- but if they feel a little threatened, that's OK. It means we're doing good."

Kawhi Leonard has committed his future to the Los Angeles Clippers by agreeing a four-year contract that includes a player option, according to reports.

Leonard had declined a $36million option to enter free agency after the NBA postseason, though it was expected he would opt to return to the Clippers.

The five-time NBA All-Star suffered a serious knee injury during the playoffs, going down during the Western Conference finals. Without him, Los Angeles went on to lose the series 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns.

Having undergone surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, it is unclear exactly when Leonard will be ready to get back on the court. It has been reported he will miss an extended amount of the 2021-22 season as he works his way back to full fitness.

However, the Clippers at least know they have him locked up for the long term. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Twitter that the deal is worth $176.3m with an option for the fourth and final year.

Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The 30-year-old opted to join forces with Paul George at the Clippers, with their two seasons together seeing the team finish second and then fourth in the West.

They went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the 2020-21 regular season, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, L.A. have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference finals respectively in the past two seasons.

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard are expected to decline player options for next season ahead of the NBA free agency period opening on Monday, but the veteran stars may stay with their teams.

After leading the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals, Paul will not exercise his $44million option for the 2021-22 season, The Athletic reported. ESPN added that the Suns are optimistic they will be able to re-sign the 36-year-old. 

Yahoo Sports first reported Leonard would decline his $36m option with the Los Angeles Clippers and become an unrestricted free agent, but ESPN reports he is expected to remain with the Clippers on a new deal after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the playoffs. 

Even if they end up staying where they are, those two will be the two biggest names on the open market beginning on Monday, but others figure to be available in trades. 

Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors may top that list as he is expected to move on from Toronto. ESPN reported that the Miami Heat's move to pick up Goran Dragic's $19.4m team option might have been designed to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal for Lowry. 

Ben Simmons also could be on the move from the Philadelphia 76ers, but Bradley Beal now seems set to stay with the Washington Wizards after they sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in a draft-night trade. 

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