PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Kawhi Leonard said his health and playing time will be managed differently this season compared to how the Toronto Raptors managed the star forward.
On his first Media Day with the LA Clippers, Leonard said his health is considerably better now than it was entering last season with the Raptors, when he was coming off a quad injury and having played a total of nine games in San Antonio during the 2017-18 season.
“It’s different this season,” Leonard said after being asked how his health will be managed this season. “Last year, I was going in with an injury that I was dealing with the year before, still was lingering, and we knew that I had to be healthy going throughout the season and making it to the playoffs.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The five-man team on which LeBron James and Anthony Davis played together so thoroughly dominated the second day of Los Angeles Lakers training camp Sunday that James was pulled to rest before the day’s scrimmages were over.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel plans to do more of that with James this preseason.
When asked how much he figures he’ll play James, entering his 17th season, during the Lakers’ six-game exhibition slate, Vogel said, “not a ton.”
“We want to be intelligent,” he continued. “We want to get him enough reps to get him familiar with his teammates and get everybody on the same page, some cohesiveness. But certainly going to be intelligent and not overdo it in the preseason.”
James, 34, registered career lows in games played (55) and minutes per game (35.2) last season in his debut with the Lakers.
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Vogel said he plans to maximize James’ camp by pairing him as much as possible with Davis so the two can breed familiarity in one another’s games. Vogel is also toying with various complementary pieces to fill out the starting lineup next to them. Sunday, they were joined by Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, which spelled trouble for L.A.’s reserves.
“We saw a mismatch in LeBron and Anthony’s team really sort of had their way with the other teams,” Vogel said. “We had three teams out there, and those guys really performed at a high level on both ends of the floor.”
The excitement surrounding the pairing of a six-time All-Star in his prime in Davis with a four-time MVP and three-time champion in James is to be expected.
But Vogel said there has been a breakout star in camp who has stolen some of the spotlight from the Lakers’ dynamic duo.
“We’ve got two of the best players in the world competing together and all anybody’s talking about is Avery Bradley’s tenaciousness,” Vogel said. “That speaks volumes about what he’s been able to show in the first couple of days.”
Bradley, 28, signed a two-year, $9.7 million deal with the Lakers in the offseason after being waived by the Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged 16.1 points on 46.3% shooting (38.4% from 3) with 4 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1 steal in 14 games with the Grizzlies.
The 10-year veteran said he dropped 40 pounds in the offseason, shedding excess weight his body put on following groin surgery last season.
He has replaced his workout regimen with unleashing himself defensively during training camp.
“Just being in the face of whoever has the basketball,” Vogel said. “It’s become very clear that coaching against him, [we'd] say, ‘Don’t dribble the ball. If Avery’s on you, pass the ball. Just give it up.’ Because you’re not going anywhere with a bounce with Avery Bradley on you.”
And he has shown it on the other end.
“He’s shooting the ball well offensively, too,” Vogel said. “Talk about his tenaciousness, he’s really shooting — not just corner 3, the arc 3. Shot at a high level in Memphis last year, has really grown that throughout his career.”
Add it all up, and Vogel sounds like he just wants to fast-forward through training camp and get to the real thing. L.A. plays its first preseason game in San Francisco next weekend against the Golden State Warriors in the opening game for the Chase Center and then travels to China for a pair of games against the Brooklyn Nets.
“I feel like we’re ready to play right now,” he said. “We put a lot of stuff in, both offensively with our full offense and the variety of things you can do out of it, as well as a lot of our defensive coverages. We’ve had a really productive first couple of days, and I’m not worried about us not being ready to play games against Golden State or in China.”
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“This time, I’m feeling good,” Leonard continued. “I’m feeling way better than I was at the start of last season. There really was no plan laid out to discuss with everyone.”
Last season, Leonard played a total of 60 regular-season games for the Raptors and averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. Leonard then led the Raptors to their first NBA title, averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 postseason games, and was the Finals MVP. Leonard said he could not have done that without the Raptors’ load-management plan.
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But Leonard said he is feeling much better as he enters his first season with the Clippers. The more Leonard and Paul George — who is coming off surgeries on both his shoulders — play, the more formidable Doc Rivers’ defense will be. Rivers has two of the best two-way players in the game in Leonard and George to go with the tenacious Patrick Beverley among others.
“It’s going to be scary,” George said of the Clippers’ defensive versatility. “With myself, [Montrezl Harrell], Kawhi, Pat, [Landry Shamet], Mo [Harkless], Rodney [McGruder], we’ve really got a chance to do something special on the defensive end. … Watching Pat get out there and picking somebody up 94 feet, that’s going to get me going. It’s going to get Kawhi going. It’s just going to become contagious on a nightly basis. I honestly think, for the first time, people are going to be excited to watch the defensive end as opposed to watching the offensive [end].”
Beverley said the additions of Leonard and George will make the Clippers’ scrappy, underdog mentality feel like it’s “on steroids.”
Asked if he will consider playing for Team USA next summer, Leonard said he is focused on one thing right now.
“I do want to play, but I’m taking it one step at a time,” Leonard said. “And right now, it is getting the Clippers to the Finals.”