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Kawhi Leonard has figured out how to be a leader

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Kawhi Leonard has sat out nine of the Clippers' previous 11 games due to right foot soreness. But despite the injury, he's been on the road with the team.

Just making sure the team sees my face.

Kawhi Leonard, The Athletic

Last year's Clippers didn't have the same luxury. Kawhi missed 15 games, mostly due to load management, based on the exclusive right he and Paul George were granted, giving them the ability to decide which games they wanted to play in. And that's just a part of the preferential treatment they were given.

The rest included personal security guards and trainers, control of the team's practice and travel schedule, and later postgame media time slots. Leonard was even allowed to live in San Diego, which often led to him being late for team flights. He additionally requested a personal space for his pregame routine and was allowed to use the female staffers' locker room, which led at least one player and one staff member to voice their displeasure.

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How do you ever build a strong team with that s--t going on? I thought from the beginning, ‘We’re doomed,'" a team source told The Athletic's Jovan Buha. "'Kawhi wants too much special treatment.’”

This year's Clippers don't have that problem because this year's Kawhi Leonard doesn't demand the same perks. Even though he already missed 18 games, it hasn't resulted in a lack of buy-in from the rest of the team like it did last season. That's because Kawhi is around, even when he's not available to play.

I want to be at those games watching them, knowing what the game plan is, hearing the coaches, hearing my teammates, seeing the process of going to shootaround, getting ready to go back to the hotel, come back to the arena, get ready for the game. Just, everything. Just wanted to still be in that motion, be in that rhythm, and most importantly letting guys know I’m here. And you know, just let them hear my voice and see my face.

Kawhi Leonard, The Athletic

The Clippers' 19-20 NBA season ended ugly; they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets, prompting an internal shake-up within the organization, from roster tweaks to coaching change. Now, with Ty Lue in charge, they look ready for a revenge postseason campaign.

With seven games left in the regular season, the Clippers sit at the 4th seed in the West, 0.5 games behind the Nuggets. They have the second-best offense in the league (117.9 ORtg) and are 10th in the NBA in the Defensive Rating (111.7). Leonard, when healthy, has played at an MVP level, averaging 25.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.5 assists a game. But that's not what makes the Clippers dangerous - they had all of that last year.

What they didn't have is leadership. Now, it seems they've cultivated one internally. Kawhi wasn't that guy in '20, but it seems he might've figured it out. Next to a veteran like Rajon Rondo, that alone should be enough.

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