Kawhi Leonard expected to suit up for Clippers versus Mavericks in Vancouver

Leonard, who famously managed his workload last season with the Raptors and has taken a similar approach to this year's exhibition schedule, sat out L.A.'s first two exhibition games before making his preseason debut Thursday at the Staples Center.

Kawhi Leonard holds the MVP trophy during the Toronto Raptors Victory Parade on June 17, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 4-2 to win the 2019 NBA Finals. Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images

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Four months after leaving the NBA champion Toronto Raptors for the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency, Kawhi Leonard is set to make his first return to Canada.

Leonard is expected to play next Thursday when the Clippers meet the Mavericks in Vancouver for their penultimate preseason game, according to Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers.

Leonard, who famously managed his workload last season with the Raptors and has taken a similar approach to this year’s exhibition schedule, sat out L.A.’s first two exhibition games before making his preseason debut Thursday at the Staples Center.

The Clippers lost that game 111-91, but the result matters little at this point. What mattered a great deal to many, however, was seeing Leonard in a Clippers jersey for the first time as he recorded seven points and six assists in just 11 minutes of action.

Leonard, who grew up just 45 minutes from the Staples Centre, for all the world looked like the homegrown force he will be for the Clippers’ franchise after signing a three-year, $103-million contract this July, though he admitted to feeling a little rusty after taking the entire summer off to recover from his playoff run with the Raptors.

“I didn’t play no type of contact basketball, no type of pickup at all” this summer, Leonard told the LA Times. “I really wasn’t able to work out like I wanted to this summer but there’s always rust if you’re not playing.”

Still, his brief cameo impressed many, including his new teammates.

“He looked good,” Clippers shooting guard Landry Shamet told The Athletic. “He looked like the player he is. Best player in the world.”

Leonard is not expected to play Sunday when the Clippers head to Melbourne for a game with an Australian squad, but Rivers said Leonard will “definitely probably” play again Oct. 17.

That’s hardly a guarantee, however, as Leonard is effectively in charge of his own schedule. He was not expected to appear in Thursday’s game, but informed the team the previous day he wanted to play, and was added to the starting lineup just an hour before tipoff. If the brief burst of activity leaves Leonard feeling sore, he could opt out of Canada — he’s done it before, after all.

“His return to Canada should be quite a scene,” Andrew Greif, the Times’ Clippers beat reporter, said Thursday. It remains to be seen if Leonard will be greeted warmly for delivering an NBA title to Canada or jeered for leaving the team so soon afterward.

Tickets for the Clippers-Mavericks tilt, which will take place at Rogers Arena, went on sale in July and are still available.

Paul George, the Clippers’ other superstar acquisition this offseason, will not play in Vancouver. He is not expected to play at all this preseason after undergoing surgery on both shoulders this offseason. George is targeting a November return to the lineup.

hmooney@postmedia.com


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