- Kawhi Leonard can become a free agent this summer by declining a $36 million option.
- If Leonard re-signs with the Clippers, he could make $175 million over four years.
- Leonard could also sign a one-year deal and be eligible for a $246 million contract next year.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Kawhi Leonard has a variety of options that could allow him to become the centerpiece of the NBA offseason or set him on a path to a historic contract.
Leonard has a $36 million player option for 2021-22. He could simply pick it up, remain on the LA Clippers, then become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
Leonard also could opt out, explore playing for a new team, and set off another free-agency frenzy. What once looked like a stacked free-agent class has dwindled as many stars signed extensions, making Leonard undoubtedly the top option. According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, and New York Knicks are all expected to actively pursue Leonard should he become available.
Yet switching teams would also hurt Leonard’s bottom line, something he seemed to have in mind when he signed a three-year, $103 million deal with the Clippers in 2019. According to multiple reports, Leonard is expected to re-sign with the Clippers.
It’s up to Leonard if he wants a big payday now or a more modest, short-term one so he can cash in on a historic $246 million deal next year.
Leonard could stay with the Clippers for anywhere from $175-$181 million
If Leonard opts out of his contract this summer and decides he wants to stay with the Clippers long-term, he could sign a four-year, $175 million contract, according to The Athletic’s John Hollinger. Such a deal would be the eighth largest in the NBA in terms of total cash.
According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Leonard could sign a four-year extension with the Clippers if he opts into his deal for 2021-22. That extension would be worth $181.5 million. When combined with his $36 million option for next season, it would be like signing a five-year, $217 million deal.
Because Leonard has only been with the Clippers for two seasons, they don’t yet have his full Bird Rights, meaning he cannot sign a five-year contract with them.
Signing a long-term deal now might be sensible for Leonard. The Clippers came within two wins of NBA Finals this season without him, as he missed the Western Conference Finals with a knee injury. There aren’t many teams in a better win-now position.
Leonard also moved to LA to be close to his family in southern California, so he presumably wouldn’t want to leave after two seasons.
Leonard also has a history of lower-body injuries that may encourage him to cash in now. His knee injury ended his season this year. He has been on a load-management plan for three straight seasons after missing almost all of the 2018-19 season with a quadriceps injury.
At 30, Leonard is at his peak, but he may want to take that money while it’s available.
The path to $246 million requires a little more waiting
If Leonard becomes a free agent in 2022, he’d be eligible to sign a five-year contract worth about $246 million, according to Hollinger (dollar figures are estimates, as salary cap numbers haven’t been finalized yet).
Leonard could simply opt into his deal for next year, but he could also get a slight pay raise by signing a “1+1” deal – a two-year deal, with a player option for 2022-23 that he’d almost certainly decline so he could sign a long-term contract.
Leonard’s salary could start at $39 million next season if he signs a new contract. It would represent a slight pay raise while still putting him in line for a monster, five-year deal in 2022.
This option also keeps Leonard’s options temporarily. If the Clippers came up short in the postseason again, perhaps he might decide he wants to change teams again.
If Leonard signs a short-term contract this offseason, it could just be a setup to sign a monster deal in 2022. But it will also apply pressure to the Clippers to ensure they are contenders this coming season so that Leonard will want to make a five-year, $200 million commitment to them.