- Kawhi Leonard signed a three-year $US103 million contract with an opt-out in 2021 with the Los Angeles Clippers instead of the presumed four-year max contract.
- The move gives Leonard flexibility over his future but also a chance to recoup some money that he’s missed out on after not signing the $US221 million “supermax” with the San Antonio Spurs or the $US190 million max with the Toronto Raptors.
- The move also sets massive stakes for the Clippers and NBA free agency in 2021, as Leonard and Paul George could hit the open market in the same summer as LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bradley Beal.
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In a surprising move, Kawhi Leonard has taken a shorter contract with the Los Angeles Clippers.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Leonard is signing a three-year $US103 million contract with the Clippers, with a player option for the third year.
Initial reports following Leonard’s move to the Clippers said Leonard would sign the four-year $US142 million max contract with the Clippers.
The move marks the third time in two years that Leonard has turned down money on future contracts. Leonard would have been eligible for the five-year $US221 million “supermax” contract with the San Antonio Spurs had he stayed there. It’s unclear if the Spurs ever offered the deal in an attempt to convince Leonard to stay. It seems likely that he would have signed it if the two sides never had a falling-out.
In free agency this summer, Leonard could have signed a five-year $US190 million contract with the Toronto Raptors. He instead chose to leave Toronto.
Now, Leonard has signed a short-term deal with the Clippers that accomplishes two things: flexibility and the chance to recoup some money.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks said that if Leonard opts out after two years, the Clippers won’t have his full Bird Rights, meaning they can’t offer him the five-year max. The most he could sign is for four years for $US196 million.
If Leonard wanted to remain with the Clippers for year three, he could opt in, then hit free agency in 2022, when the Clippers could offer him a full five-year max. If he wanted to leave the Clippers, he could sign elsewhere for four years, at 35% of the salary cap – a deal that would still be worth more than the $US141 million one he could have signed with the Clippers this summer.
Nate Jones, an NBA agent, said on Twitter that Leonard could also opt out in 2021, do another 1+1 contract (two years, with a player option in the second year), then sign a full max in 2022 or 2023.
Perhaps most importantly, Leonard’s contract structure gives him flexibility. The Clippers now look like the league’s best team after landing Leonard and Paul George. But if things don’t go well over the next two years, Leonard could once again hit the free-agent market in 2021 to look for another team.
Leonard’s opt-out occurs in the same year as George’s. It’s possible both players could hit free agency at the same time and weigh their futures.
This puts pressure on the Clippers. They traded seven first-round picks, plus All-Rookie Team guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Oklahoma City Thunder for George. Faced with the possibility that Leonard and George could bolt in two years, the Clippers will have to be prudent in finding ways to upgrade their team. If they were to lose both players – and it’s very early to even begin speculating about such things – the Clippers could be in dire straits, as the Thunder will have control over five of the team’s picks.
While 2021 free agency is still two years away, and the league will change in the meantime, the class is shaping up to be a big one. Leonard and George could be free agents, as could Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Bradley Beal.
In today’s NBA, teams think years ahead. It may seem too early for the gears on 2021 free agency to start turning, but it’s entirely possible that in the coming months, teams will make moves to set themselves up for another big summer.
- Read more:
- Kawhi Leonard reportedly impressed NBA superstars with his free agency recruiting and ultimately planted the seeds for the Clippers big summer
- NBA free agency has exploded. Here are the biggest signings so far and the best remaining players.
- There is growing buzz about a Russell Westbrook trade, but a deal could get complicated
- The biggest winners and losers of a wild NBA free agency that re-shaped the league
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