Ballmer touts Clips’ title hopes ‘if we stay healthy’

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LOS ANGELES — LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer raised his hands up and began rocking back and forth as he began to think about the idea of a healthy Kawhi Leonard returning this upcoming season.

After not having Leonard all of last season while he recovered from a torn right ACL, Ballmer said Tuesday he is “really excited” about the Clippers, suggesting they should be staring at a deep postseason run if they can stay healthy for an entire regular season and postseason for once.

“I think the sky is the limit for our team,” he 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.”

The Clippers have not been fortunate with injuries. Leonard has not played since injuring his knee during the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on June 14, 2021. Paul George was limited to 31 games last regular season because of an elbow injury, returning to action in late March.

With Leonard expected to return, the Clippers are projected to contend for the title. They also are expected to add point guard John Wall, who plans to sign a free-agent deal with the Clippers, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon.

Wall, who was due $47.4 million from the Houston Rockets after exercising the player option for the final year of his contract, agreed to a buyout with Houston to take $6.5 million less to become a free agent, a source told ESPN. Wall could make up that amount, which is roughly the taxpayer midlevel exception, once he is able to negotiate a deal with the Clippers.

Wall would fill a need at point guard for LA. He averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists in 40 games in 2020-21 before sitting out all of last season.

News of Wall’s potential signing with the Clippers improved their title odds at Caesars Sportsbook. They now have the third-shortest odds (+700), trailing only the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics.

The Clippers also agreed on a three-year, $33 million contract extension with starting center Ivica Zubac, Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday.

The Clippers’ title hopes, though, rest on Leonard’s ability to come back and remain healthy. Ballmer was asked about the prospect of seeing Leonard back on the court this coming season.

“Come on, man,” Ballmer said excitedly. “[Leonard is] not only your best player but one of the preeminent handful of top players in the world. 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.”

Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, said last week that Leonard was progressing but had not yet done 5-on-5 basketball activities.

Ballmer was speaking Tuesday from the Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Center, where he was with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to celebrate the renovation of 350 public basketball courts in L.A. The Clippers, Ballmer and his wife, Connie, invested over $12 million into the project.

Ballmer made it no secret just how long the Clippers — who lost in the play-in last season after making the Western Conference finals the season before — could be playing this coming season if things break their way.

“I think if we stay healthy next year,” Ballmer said, “we are going to be having a chance to talk way late into the [postseason]. How’s that?”

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