It is a notion that is lingering among other teams, even if it is not something much discussed within the orbit of the L.A. Clippers themselves. Kawhi Leonard, even as he is in the midst of another peak season—26.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 51.5% shooting—is slated to be a free agent in the summer and while it makes perfect sense for him to stay put in Southern California, another Clippers flop in the coming months would put his future with the team into doubt.
There has been speculation—not more than that—that when the free-agent market opens, presumably in August, Leonard will be at the top of the list of teams that have salary cap space to sign him. The problem for most of those teams, though, is that Leonard likely would not even consider them as destinations.
Even the Knicks, an organization that (foolishly) tends to think everyone wants to play in New York regardless of its record, probably won’t get involved in a pursuit of Leonard. They’d planned to go after him when he was a free agent in 2019, but Leonard nixed that before it even started. The Bulls were a possibility for Leonard that had been floated earlier in the year, but their trade for Nikola Vucevic means they won’t have the cap space for Leonard.
That’s why most league executives are shrugging off the idea of a Leonard chase in free agency.
But there is one team that keeps lingering: the Miami Heat.
Miami Heat Checks All Kawhi Leonard’s Boxes
The Heat offer Leonard just about everything he might want. He made clear during his one season in Toronto that he was not a fan of cold weather, and certainly, in South Florida, that would not be an issue. He also is known for his thrift—some might call him a bit cheap—and the lack of state income taxes in Florida would be attractive.
Plus, he would have the opportunity to team up with guard Jimmy Butler and big man Bam Adebayo, creating a much different dynamic than he has with the Clippers, where fellow wing Paul George is his primary co-star. The Heat have a solid and varied core, where the Clippers are built with two wing stars and role players.
The Heat have cap space that they have protected meticulously. It was the reason they let Jae Crowder walk last offseason. The team planned to use its money on a big-name target, preferably Giannis Antetokounmpo, but with Antetokounmpo having re-signed in Milwaukee, the biggest fish in the free-agent pond now is Leonard.
The Heat traded for another free agent, Victor Oladipo, at the trade deadline. They could choose to keep him on board. But they’re certain to at least inquire about Leonard’s interest in coming East.
Leonard Indicated He Would Opt Out
As for Leonard, he has been typically close-mouthed about the situation. He addressed his free agency in December, when he made plain that he intended to opt out of the final year of his deal if he could avoid injury. So far, he has done that.
He has not taken an extension from the Clippers—as George did before the season—because he can earn more by waiting until the offseason.
“Just for my situation right now, I’m just focused on this season,” Leonard said in December. “Not saying I’m going anywhere else or staying here, but I’m just focused on the season. Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option,” Leonard continued. “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.”
The Clippers hope the time for that talk is not right until late July—that is, after the NBA Finals, in which L.A. is hoping to participate.