Kawhi Leonard is probably going to return to the Los Angeles Clippers, but there’s a chance he will not. Leonard is choosing to decline his player option, as first reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, but Haynes also notes he is “open” to listening to offers from other teams.
The Clippers superstar will be recovering from a torn ACL sustained against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals for the foreseeable future, but he is sure to garner significant interest now that he’s going to be listening to other offers.
“Even with the injury that he sustained late in that playoff series against the Suns, he’s still going to go out there and test the market,” Haynes said in an appearance on NBA TV after he initially broke the news. “Now, I will say this, that Kawhi is in a situation where it looks like he’s expected to re-sign with the Clippers. But sources inform me that he will listen to other teams.”
Haynes: ‘I Don’t Expect Day 1 Signing’
According to Haynes, based on what happened when Kawhi left both San Antonio and Toronto, Clipper Nation shouldn’t expect an expedient deal if and when he chooses to re-sign.
“I don’t expect this to be a Day 1 signing. I don’t expect this to be hashed out Day 1. If you look at all the other Kawhi Leonard free agencies, both summers, they tend to extend out, probably for four or five days,” Haynes told NBA TV. “I don’t expect it to get to that point, but I do not expect this situation to be hashed out Day 1. I do anticipate Kawhi at some point signing with the Clippers for maybe a one-and-one type scenario — but he is open and he will listen to other teams.”
This was the expected outcome, as it’s a way for Leonard to test the market and get a max deal.
What Could Leonard’s Next Deal With Clippers Look Like?
The likeliest option right now is, as Haynes noted, that Kawhi will sign a two-year deal with a player option he could choose to exercise in the second season.
The maximum contract Kawhi and the Clippers could agree to is a four-year, $176 million deal. “He could also do a 1+1 and become a FA in 2022 where he could sign a 5 year $235M contract,” ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweeted.
Per Haynes, Leonard is also “eligible for a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap, or $39 million, which made the decision an easy one for one of the game’s most coveted players, even if he may not be able to play at all next season. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer will pay whatever it takes to keep Leonard, considering the investment the multi-billionaire made to pair Leonard with fellow perennial All-Star Paul George just two summers ago.”
“Not saying I’m going anywhere else or staying here, but I’m just focused on the season,” Leonard told the L.A. Times about his pending decision late last December. “Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying. I’m focused on the season, like I said. We’ll talk about that when the time is right.”
He’s no longer healthy, and the time has officially arrived. Now, much will depend on other teams, as well as the offers they make. Buckle up, Clipper Nation.