Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard urged patience as he continues to recover from a partially torn ACL suffered in June 2021.
Leonard returned to the lineup in Thursday's 96-91 win over the Detroit Pistons, tallying six points, five rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. It marked his third appearance of the 2022-23 season and his first since Oct. 23.
"It's going to be a long journey," the five-time All-Star told reporters. "They say recovery isn't just one year. Everybody thinks that. But it's a two-year process."
Leonard sat out the entire 2021-22 campaign because of the knee injury and missed the past three-plus weeks because of stiffness in the joint following his return last month.
"Just rehabbing, getting ready," the 31-year-old L.A. native said about his recent 12-game absence. "I'm not going to explain it because I'm not a doctor, and nobody in here is one. So just getting back, ready to get on the floor."
The key question, which will likely decide whether the Clippers can emerge as legitimate championship contenders this season, is if he'll eventually return to his usual form.
In 2020-21, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 51.2 percent from the field. He ranked eighth in the NBA in player efficiency rating, per ESPN.
Putting that level of performance alongside Paul George, who's tied for eighth in FiveThirtyEight's WAR metric this season, would give Los Angeles one of the league's best one-two punches.
Keeping Leonard and George healthy and on the floor together has been the biggest problem L.A. has faced since they arrived ahead of the 2019-20 season, though.
George has played 148 of a possible 242 games over that span. Leonard has played 112.
The former San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors standout couldn't guarantee it's clear sailing after his latest return.
"Like I said, it's a two-year process," Leonard said. "Everybody thinks it's a one-year process, but we don't know. We'll see what happens once we keep moving forward."
Led by George, the Clippers have managed to trend in a positive direction with a 9-7 record while waiting to see whether Leonard can get back to a more impactful level.
L.A. is back in action Saturday night when it hosts the 6-10 Spurs.