As much as anyone on the Clippers, Norman Powell has a unique perspective on how Kawhi Leonard has evolved as a team leader.
The two were teammates on the Toronto Raptors, giving Powell a view into how Leonard has changed from a player who is a willing talker with the Clippers and how he has shown his “personality” in ways few saw before. Leonard’s talents were never questioned, his ability to lead the Raptors to the 2019 NBA championship the proof.
Now Leonard, who also led San Antonio to the 2014 title, is leading as much with his voice as his work ethic.
“Yeah, I definitely see a different Kawhi out there — personality-wise, laughing more, enjoying just being out here and the moments that we have as a team coming together,” Powell said before the Clippers practiced Saturday. “You definitely see more interaction, him talking to everybody. Not to say that he wasn’t in Toronto, but you definitely see some joy in him when he steps on the floor and interacts with the guys day in and day out. So, it’s definitely good.”
Clippers coach Ty Lue suggested that Leonard is “excited” to be back playing and around his teammates after not playing in an NBA game since June 2021 while the star forward recovered from a knee injury.
When the team convened for camp in Las Vegas, the Clippers immediately noticed a different Leonard.
Lue said Leonard is a “quiet guy by nature,” but when he speaks, “everyone listens.”
“I think being excited to be back,” Lue said. “Just having a bigger voice, I know he does it all by showing guys working out early, first one here, last one to leave. Just having a voice and showing these guys, like in the scrimmage the other day at USC [on Thursday], [guys] started out messing around and he pulled the guys in and said, ‘let’s play for real and let’s tighten it up,’ and guys started playing more serious.
“I don’t think he would have done that two or three years ago. I think with him and PG [Paul George] just having the biggest voices on the team and knowing that this is their team, he’s definitely taken huge steps in that regard.”
Lue said Leonard will play in Sunday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Crypto.com Arena.
“I know he wants to get a lot of reps in because he hasn’t played in 15 months,” Lue said. “So, he wants to get a lot of reps in, play as much as he can. So that’s why every day in practice, we’ve been scrimmaging a lot, just playing. Just trying to let him get his rhythm.”
Powell said having Leonard talk to the younger players and explain things helps to “build confidence in the team.”
When Leonard allows Lue to coach him as hard as everyone else, Powell said it’s a good sign that the best player is willing to listen.
“When T-Lue’s telling him to do the drill over again, different position, ‘Nah Kawhi, you messed up,’” Powell said, “those are things that feed a team without even having to really sit down and give motivational speeches and say like, ‘OK, Kawhi is doing this, so let me step my game up as well.’ You see him interacting more and smiling. So, it’s definitely nice to see.”
Marcus Morris Sr. was back at practice Saturday after being away for the birth of his child. Lue said Morris is “supposed to play” against the Timberwolves. Lue said Terance Mann (ankle) and Amir Coffey (neck) also will play, but that Luke Kennard (ankle) and Jason Preston (groin) will be re-evaluated after practice Saturday to determine if they will play.