It was reported last week that Kawhi Leonard was returning to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency, but it was unclear how long he’d be committed to the team.
Well, Leonard is indeed staying in LA for the long haul, agreeing to terms on a four-year contract worth $176.3 million, per The Athletic‘s Shams Charania. The Clippers later confirmed Leonard was staying:
In two seasons with the Clippers, Leonard has somewhat fallen short of expectations. Los Angeles blew a 3-1 lead in the second round to the Denver Nuggets in the Orlando bubble, and Leonard’s lack of availability was always a lingering concern.
Unfortunately, during LA’s most recent playoff run, Leonard suffered a torn ACL versus the Utah Jazz. Given how cautious he is with load management throughout the regular season, it’s highly unlikely Leonard will suit up at all for the Clippers until the next postseason.
So in essence, this extension is really for three years, and features a player option in the final year of Leonard’s deal, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. It’s a good-faith move on the Clippers’ part to still pay Leonard a boatload of money despite the fact that he might not even suit up during the 2021-22 campaign.
Bottom line: Leonard has missed 45 regular-season games, so he’s really given 1.5 years of service to the Clippers organization to date. If he were to decline his player option and play elsewhere once this contract ends, it may only be another two years.
Leonard’s health is definitely a factor going forward. If he can’t stay on the court, LA’s ability to build a championship contender around him and Paul George will be perpetually hamstrung.
The good news is that George has proven capable of stepping up in Leonard’s absence, as he helped the Clippers to their first-ever Conference Finals berth. That big step by George lends credibility to the notion that the Clips have enough to win a title with their current core.