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Kawhi Leonard increasingly likely to depart in NBA free agency

A few months after Kawhi Leonard remaining with the Los Angeles Clippers seemed like a foregone conclusion, there’s now an increased possibility he departs in NBA free agency.

The 30-year-old forward underwent surgery July 13 to repair the torn ACL he suffered in the NBA Playoffs. While it was always expected that he would turn down the $36 million player option, even after the operation, many around the league firmly believed he would re-sign with the Clippers.

According to NBA insider Marc Stein, it’s no longer safe to presume Leonard will still be in Los Angeles next season. He will be heavily pursued by multiple teams, including the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks, with a distinct possibility of joining a new team.

“The Mavs will try to do everything they can to get Kawhi Leonard. The Knicks and the Heat will try as well. The situation with Kawhi is no longer a safe assumption he’s staying with the Clippers.”

NBA insider Marc Stein on Kawhi Leonard’s free-agent outlook, via Spotify Greenroom

While there is no specific timeline for Leonard to return from ACL surgery, it is expected to sideline him for a portion of the 2021-’22 NBA season. Despite some concerns surrounding the durability of his knees, it isn’t expected to hurt him on the open market.

After tearing his Achilles, an injury with a far worse success rate for a full return, Kevin Durant signed a four-year, $164 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. With several high-profile teams after Leonard, there will be a variety of max contracts to choose from.

  • Kawhi Leonard stats (2020-’21 season): 24.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.6 spg and 8.8 Win Shares

The Clippers will still have an opportunity to re-sign Leonard. Stein noted that the most realistic outcome this summer is the All-Star forward inking a multi-year deal with the team. Leonard resides in San Diego, but has grown very comfortable in Los Angeles.

For now, the Clippers are viewed as the favorites around the NBA to land Leonard. But with the NBA offseason becoming increasingly wild each summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he heads elsewhere.

If that happens, the Clippers will face some very difficult decisions with Paul George the only star left on the roster and depleted resources to pull off a blockbuster trade.