As he became increasingly giddy and excited, Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer pounded his fists on the conference room table.
Not only did Ballmer convey enthusiasm about the Clippers planning to break ground Friday on the Intuit Dome, a privately-financed arena in Inglewood, California, scheduled to be completed for the 2024-25 NBA season. He also expressed optimism about what the Clippers could accomplish during their last three seasons at Staples Center in downtown L.A.
“I want to win a championship,” Ballmer told USA TODAY Sports at the Clippers' downtown office. “I think we’ll be able to compete for a championship.”
The Clippers have had those aspirations ever since Ballmer purchased the franchise in 2014 for around $2 billion. Those goals became more realistic after acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George two years ago. But a year after squandering a 3-1 second-round lead to the Denver Nuggets amid overlapping injuries and inconsistent chemistry, the Clippers lost in six games to the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 Western Conference Finals.
A huge reason why: All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard suffered a season-ending ACL injury to his right knee in Game 4 of their second-round series against the Utah Jazz. The Clippers still won that series in six games, but Leonard’s absence became too overwhelming against Phoenix. As Ballmer said, “if we had been heathy this year, who knows what might happen?”
It's been two months since since Leonard had offseason surgery on his right knee. Is there any chance he plays this upcoming season?
“Nobody knows at this stage,” Ballmer said. “Nobody knows. It’s possible. For sure, it’s possible. But it will depend on what the doctors say and what Kawhi says.”