Stephen A. Smith has Kawhi Leonard at the top of his superstar rankings.
In the worst type of way, however.
Smith unloaded on Leonard after the Clippers announced that Leonard will miss the team’s Game 4 clash against the Suns in their first-round playoff series with a right knee sprain — his second straight game he’ll miss in the series.
“Kawhi Leonard should be on the list of one of the worst superstars this game has ever seen,” Smith said on ESPN’s “First Take” on Friday, speaking to Kendrick Perkins. “That’s right, I said it. Because anybody that watches basketball knows I’m obviously not talking about his skills. We know the brother is big time. We know that as a talent, he’s a superstar. One who shows up, when he plays, I’m talking about in terms of his performance, performs in the postseason arguably better than he performs in the regular season. He is that dude.
“But when you talk about a superstar that is unreliable, I want somebody to point me out somebody more flagrant than him. You’re load-managing him all through the season, all through the season, he takes every perk imaginable.”
Leonard played in just 52 games in the regular season as the Clippers took a cautious approach with their star after Leonard missed all of the 2021-22 season with a torn ACL.
The torn ACL was on the same knee that Leonard is currently experiencing issues with, although the Clippers said the injuries are not related.
Los Angeles had hoped that by load-managing Leonard throughout the season, he would be available and be able to play extended minutes in the playoffs without issue.
Injuries have plagued Leonard’s tenure with the Clippers, whom he signed with in free agency after winning the NBA championship with the Raptors in 2018-19.
“We know the injuries are legitimate, they’re not fake,” Smith continued. “We got that, I would never do that to him or any other player… But when you think about his personality, selling the game, promoting the game, promoting the Clippers franchise, being available.
“I don’t know about you Big Perk, I’m genuinely sad for Ty Lue. Every time I look at [Clippers coach] Ty Lue and I see Ty Lue’s face, and I see him looking sad, or just looking melancholy, or whatever the appropriate word is, the first thought that comes to mind is: What the hell is wrong with Kawhi Leonard now? Because there’s no way he’s looking like that if he knows he can rely on Kawhi Leonard.”
Leonard’s relationship notably deteriorated with the Spurs, as he quarreled with the team over how to handle his quad injury when he played just nine games during the 2017-18 season.
The Spurs traded Leonard to the Raptors the following offseason in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick.
In the first two games of the series against the Suns before the latest injury emerged, Leonard averaged 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
The Suns hold a 2-1 series lead entering Saturday’s pivotal Game 4 clash.