The 2021-22 NBA season felt more normal than the previous two seasons, but the sport was without some of its biggest stars.
LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray and Brooklyn Nets forward Ben Simmons all missed last season because of a variety of injuries, while new Clippers guard John Wall was healthy but sat out because he didn’t fit into the plans of the rebuilding Houston Rockets.
All five players should provide an immediate impact on their teams this upcoming season and in the case of the Clippers, the return of Leonard and the free agent addition of Wall should immediately make LA a contender again in the Western Conference following a 42-40 campaign.
What should fans expect from their favorite returning players this fall heading into training camp? How will teams work to reintroduce players who haven’t played in competitive games in more than a year — or two years in the case of Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac?
Our NBA experts recap when we last saw each player, what has changed since they have been away from the court and the roles they could play in the 2022-23 NBA season.
Steve Ballmer couldn’t contain his enthusiasm when asked what it will be like having Leonard back this season.
“Come on, man!” the Clippers owner said in late June. “[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.”
The Clippers surely will take every precaution surrounding their franchise player. Leonard hasn’t played since tearing his right ACL during the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on June 14, 2021.
LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has not played since June 14, 2021, when he tore his right ACL. Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire
Leonard has been in San Diego rehabbing with his “maniacal” work ethic, as Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank described it.
“I’m glad [to] afford the light bill because he’s putting in the hours,” Frank said.
Entering July, Leonard had not yet participated in 5-on-5 basketball activities, but Frank said he is on schedule.
The Clippers can contend again in the West with a healthy Leonard and Paul George, who also missed a chunk of last season because of an elbow injury before returning in late March.
The Clippers added Wall after the point guard worked a buyout with the Rockets. So while the Clippers hope to bring back the majority of their team to make a title run, Wall will be a new piece with whom Leonard and George will have to form chemistry.
The Clippers might need time before hitting all cylinders again, but they’ll have time to do that before next postseason with what they hope will be a healthy and stronger Leonard.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
Wiseman hasn’t played a regular-season game since he tore his right meniscus on April 11, 2021. The Golden State Warriors center had surgery later that month, but the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft faced setback after setback in his attempts to return to the court.
Wiseman experienced swelling in his right knee last December, requiring him to undergo a cleanup procedure. By springtime, Wiseman appeared on track to return before the end of the regular season and in time to help the Warriors’ final push as they headed into the playoffs. He even played in three G League games, which were expected to be the final step in his rehab. But the knee swelling reoccurred, and he was eventually shut down for the rest of the season.