- Kawhi Leonard says he plans to opt out of the final year of his contract.
- If he does that, Leonard will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
- The Clippers are tied with the second best odds to win the 2021 NBA championship.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and Paul George recently signed deals that took them off the 2021 free agency list. But before the teams that were eyeing any one of those stars next offseason could grieve about their loss, their adrenalin is pumped high once again after a potential big fish is coming to the 2021 market.
Just as he was in 2019, Kawhi Leonard could become the biggest name in the 2021 free agent market. In an interview with Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times on Monday, Leonard said that he is focused on the season but also hinted about his 2021 plans. Per the 2019 Finals MVP:
“Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the (2021/22) player option,” Leonard said, “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.”
Exercising his player option for next season would give Kawhi a measure of short-term stability, but hitting free agency could reap his biggest contract. What Kawhi said today: https://t.co/HbQao4op3m
— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) December 21, 2020
Leonard’s statement is based on a business decision, and hopefully for the Clippers, there’s nothing more to that. His player option for the 2021-22 season is worth around $36M. But if he opts out of the deal, he could earn more with a projected starting salary of $39.34M whether he stays with the Clippers or signs with another team.
The 29-year old will be entering his 10th season and during the 2021 season, he will be eligible to receive the maximum salary worth 35% of the team’s salary cap. That’s most probably the reason why he only signed a two-year deal when he transferred to the Clippers in 2019 so this is just a continuation of the original business plan.
Kawhi signed a three-year $103M deal in the summer of 2019 with the Clippers. The final year of the contract is a $36M player option which is a short-term insurance policy should he get hurt ( fingers crossed ). Leonard missed a huge amount of action while dealing with a quad injury just before moving to the Toronto Raptors.
No Indication That Leonard is Unhappy
ESPN story on All-Star F Paul George signing an extension with the Clippers that guarantees him as much as $226M over the next five years: https://t.co/ULnqbyESQ0
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 10, 2020
Despite the club’s disappointing finish last season, there is no indication that Leonard is about to jump ship, well at least not yet for the naysayers. However, the onus is on the team to do better this year, and perhaps win it all, if they want to keep Leonard happy and not want to make him change his mind.
Leonard’s running mate in Los Angeles, Paul George, recently signed a $190M extension to stay with the Clippers for the next five seasons. PG’s long-term commitment gives Leonard the piece of mind that he won’t be alone if he decides to stick it out with his hometown team.
The Clippers enter the 2021 season with a new voice in Tyron Lue who took over after Doc Rivers quit and moved on to the Sixers. L.A. also lost Montrezl Harrell in free agency but were able to sign an excellent big man in Serge Ibaka. They also kept Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson while also signing veterans Luke Kennnard and Nicolas Batum. Whether those moves are good enough to topple their cross-town rivals Lakers is another story.
Will The Clippers Bounce Back?
The Clippers culture looked less then ideal this year according to @TheAthletic.
Can they bounce back this year and win a championship?
— BetOnline.ag (@betonline_ag) December 2, 2020
A lot was said about the Clippers and their culture during the offseason but this is a team that is determined to win it all this season. With their two superstars coming back to run it back, the Clippers are one of the top contenders in the league this season with online sportsbook BetOnline listing them with the second best odds to win the chip in 2021 at +650.
Of course the road to the Finals has to go through their city rivals and the Lakers are perceived to be the team which made some of the biggest offseason moves. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are also returning in a title retention big.
The Lakers beat the Clippers twice during the preseason but those are no-bearing games. On December 22, these rivals open the season against each other with the Lakers currently -2.5 point favorites in the spread betting and a -140 at the moneyline. But don’t expect the Clippers to just lay down and die. This team has a lot to prove this season and with Leonard and George back in tow, they’re a handful for anybody, even the champs.