Now that he has had surgery to repair the partially torn ACL he sustained in the playoffs, what does the future hold for Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard? That’s a question that will leave Clipper Nation in a state of perpetual ponderance until it’s answered.
Many wondered why the Clips were so coy when it came to discussing Leonard’s knee issue over the last month, and perhaps the severity of the injury had something to do with it. Regardless, the 30-year-old will now be recovering well into the next NBA season — if he plays at all — and questions about whether he’ll exercise his player option will take center stage. According to one NBA insider, the outlook for Kawhi staying in a Clippers uniform is bleak.
NBA Exec: Kawhi is Opting Out ‘No Matter What’
HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto said on his July 14 podcast that one NBA executive told him Kawhi’s days are numbered in L.A.
“One executive I spoke to following the announcement that Kawhi had surgery to repair the partially torn ACL said he thinks no matter what, Kawhi would opt out, especially given the fact that Kevin Durant got the max after he suffered a ruptured Achilles,” Scotto said. “That executive also noted that Kawhi’s going to hit the 10-year mark for his years of service, which plays a role in upping his max contract as well.”
Leonard’s option for next season is $36 million, and the Clips have Early Bird Rights to him if he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If he does decide to leave, the best deal he can garner is a four-year, $169.2 million deal.
Yossi Gozlan of HoopHype also added this wrinkle: “The other thing the Clippers could do is apply for a Disabled Player Exception. Usually, those get granted to teams when the player is going to be ruled out for the year. The DPE would be worth the $9.5 million MLE (mid-level exception). That could be useful for the Clippers next year if they’re going to be missing Kawhi.”
Kawhi Will Get Paid Regardless of His Knee Injury
Recent NBA history tells us that if you’re a good enough players player, you can still receive hefty paychecks after coming off surgery or a serious injury. Sam Quinn of CBS Sports summed Leonard’s current situation up nicely: “We only need to look to Kevin Durant in 2019 to see how eager most teams are to sign injured superstars. A torn Achilles is far more dangerous than a partially torn ACL,” Quinn wrote on July 14.
“Leonard will probably return to the floor at some point next season. Durant missed the entire 2019-20 campaign. It didn’t matter. He was still arguably the NBA’s best player last season. Teams will expect the same out of Leonard. The upside of an MVP candidate is going to outweigh the risk of injury most of the time.”
Quinn also notes that Leonard could choose to stay with the Clippers and still receive the kind of fiscal security he’ll likely be demanding:
If he’d wanted to remain with the Clippers, the prudent path would have been returning on his option before getting the five-year max next offseason. Before this injury, there was little doubting his leverage in demanding such a deal. Now, it’s worth asking if he’s willing to take such a risk, and what the financial ramifications of doing so might be. If he wants the security of a long-term deal now, that is probably still available to him. The Clippers can use Leonard’s Early Bird Rights to pay him his max on a four-year deal that includes eight percent raises annually. In total, such a deal could pay him as much as $176 million under the projected $112.4 million cap.
Time will tell what Leonard’s future holds, but right now, it’s not looking good for Kawhi’s future with the Clippers.