Muscular Kawhi Leonard holds court during Clippers camp opener


One by one, the Clippers arrived Tuesday morning in an auspicious start to the season.

Norman Powell was the first inside the gymnasium on UNLV’s campus, the veteran with stated goals of becoming an All-Star and starting shooting guard soon tossing jumpers over the defense coaches 90 minutes before the official start of training. Out the front door came the young Clippers on training camp contracts in their Nike-sponsored training gear. From a side door guarded by a security guard, Kawhi Leonard entered in his New Balance t-shirt and shorts.

Point guard John Wall put on his sneakers while chatting with team advisor Jerry West. The guard with whom Wall will compete for the starting job, Reggie Jackson, punched anyone who got within reach. Center Ivica Zubac, who suffered an ankle while playing for Croatia in this month’s EuroBasket tournament, entered without apparent pain.

The first day of practice had begun — the first day with an entirely healthy Clippers roster since the spring of 2021.

“It feels good to see everyone healthy,” coach Tyronn Lue said before training, “and back on the pitch.”

The Clippers know they have enough top talent to compete for the franchise’s first championship. They think they have enough shooting and depth to support such ambition as well. What they lack in size rim protection, they hope to make up for with their number of center plug-in options.

What no one knows is how healthy they’ll be when the playoffs start in April, which is why a phalanx of medical staff followed the Clippers into the gym on Tuesday and why day one has looked good to the Clippers after Leonard looked strong during full-contact, five-on-five situations.

“I mean, it’s just good to see him on the pitch shooting and soon playing basketball with us,” winger Nicolas Batum said before training. “To have a guy like that back, one of the best players in the world, one of the best players in the league, it’s going to be good for us.”

Jackson said of the title’s expectations: “Part of the excitement, too, is knowing that on paper everybody – a lot of people – is probably choosing us, and it looks good on paper. .”

The first practice turned theory into reality. In the part open to journalists before training, Leonard worked on the off-dribble shot. It came a day after Leonard said his plan was to take part in early training, with the rest of his involvement throughout pre-season determined by the response of his surgically repaired right knee and the rest of his body. 31 years old. The Clippers will practice three days here before flying to Seattle on Thursday, where they will play two preseason games and hold practices while wrapping up training camp.

“It’s been 14 months just trying to improve myself and focus on my body in general,” Leonard said on Monday. “I’m excited. I’m tired of going through these rehab workouts and listening to doctors and coaches for the most part. Although I’m still going to have to move on, but it will be more involved in basketball. will help.

His teammates, as well as fans on social media, noticed the muscle Leonard added during his recovery, especially in his legs.

“His recovery is going well,” winger Terance Mann said, “and he’s Kawhi, so he’ll be fine.”

Tuesday’s camp opening did not require introductions. Of the 10 Clippers who played at least 1,000 minutes last season, eight are back and that figure doesn’t include familiar faces whose minutes were limited after joining via the mid-season trade, Robert Covington and Powell, nor sophomore comebacks Brandon Boston Jr. and Jason Preston. That combination of continuity and health should make this “different from most training camps,” Lue said, in that practices can move into the scrum earlier than usual.

These early queues may reflect some without a traditional center. Moses Brown, a 7-foot-2 center on a training camp contract, “will have an opportunity,” Lue said, but in a season where the Clippers’ rotation is likely to feel pressure with more deserving players than minutes available, Mann and Batum said they would play any role asked of them, including center.

“Playing small – I think it’s more important to play small with Kawhi and [Paul George] on the floor,” Lue added. ” I think I have [Zubac] get out early and pop and come back with the second unit so we can help the rebound, I think it will be better for us because Kawhi and PG are great rebounders.

Lue said he wanted a focused but relaxed atmosphere during camp, with players aware of the significant opportunity ahead of them. He had never missed making the playoffs as a head coach until last season, and while he spent his offseason trying to be more patient, he also has little patience for the the kind of wavering focus that could waste valuable practice reps and cost the Clippers a chance to achieve their championship ambitions.

He caught their attention at 10:02 a.m., when a buzzing car horn sounded in the Clippers’ temporary home in Vegas and 20 players surrounded Lue. The coach looked and saw a rarity – his perfectly healthy team.

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