Three reasons why Kawhi Leonard’s new contract is another win for Clippers star
The philosopher Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. once said, “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.” Kawhi Leonard may have never heard that line, but he sure embodies it.
Fresh off his second title and NBA Finals MVP, Leonard realized he had more power in free agency than any player in the league. He controlled every aspect of negotiations with the Clippers, Lakers and Raptors, and he actively recruited Thunder star Paul George to play with him while contemplating his choices. The Leonard sweepstakes ultimately ended with both Leonard and George on the Clippers, making Los Angeles early championship favorites.
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But Leonard didn’t sign a four-year, $142 million max contract with the Clippers as originally reported. He agreed to a three-year, $103 million deal with a player option for the third season, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Why do those numbers matter? Glad you asked…
Kawhi Leonard sets himself up for another huge contract
As the saying goes, “Board man gets paid.” Much like Kevin Durant and LeBron James, Leonard will make significant money and maintain flexibility with this two-plus-one deal.
Leonard can re-enter free agency after the 2020-21 season by declining his player option as a 10-year veteran, which allows the Clippers to offer him a max contract worth 35 percent of the team’s cap.
In this case, Leonard would be projected to sign a four-year, $196 million contract with the Clippers. That would help Leonard recoup the dollars left behind when he asked out of San Antonio. (He could also take that 2021-22 option and then go for the full five-year max.)
Then again, we’re talking about a guy who used coupons for free wings after his last contract extension. Leonard might not care all that much as long as “Board man gets fed.”
Kawhi Leonard is now on the same timeline as Paul George
George agreed to a three-plus-one contract with the Thunder last summer. It was a massive victory for Oklahoma City after general manager Sam Presti traded for George with no guarantee he would be anything more than a rental.
Yeah, about that…
Now that George is heading to Los Angeles, he aligns perfectly with Leonard. That’s worth noting because this could be a partnership Leonard and George want to keep in place beyond their current deals.
From ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne:
At the same time he was meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors this week, Leonard was meeting, calling and texting with George, trying to convince him to find a way out of Oklahoma City.
Like Durant, George was flattered by Leonard’s recruiting. The two had a fair amount in common. They’d grown up in the Los Angeles area at about the same time. George, 29, is from Palmdale, a dusty desert town about an hour and a half north of L.A. Leonard, 28, is from Riverside, a sprawling Inland Empire town about an hour and a half east of L.A. Both had been lightly recruited out of high school, found their footing as players at mid-major colleges (George at Fresno State, Leonard at San Diego State) and then quietly entered the NBA as mid-first-round picks.
Still, Leonard’s recruiting efforts caught George by surprise.
Said one source close to George, “For a quiet guy, he’s a hell of a recruiter.”
Not every player can call up another star and persuade him to immediately request a trade. This dynamic duo should work well together on the floor, but there could also be a bond beyond the court.
The Clippers are already on the clock
Leonard ditched the Spurs, one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. He walked away from the Raptors after a championship season. He helped force the Thunder into a trade. He kept the Lakers involved in his free agency chase long enough so they’d miss out on other targets before settling for leftovers. (Maybe that wasn’t an intended consequence of waiting out the week to sign with the Clippers, but it was a consequence nonetheless.)
So if you’re Clippers president Lawrence Frank or general manager Michael Winger, you better check all of Leonard’s boxes in the next two years. The Clippers have a geographic advantage the Raptors never did, but that alone isn’t enough to ensure Leonard stays through the rest of his prime.
It’s extremely smart for Leonard to create this kind of leverage. He is telling Los Angeles’ front office that it must continue to be all-in with winning moves. The Clippers can’t afford to lose Leonard and George because they unloaded a crazy amount of assets in the trade with OKC.
Imagine the kind of teams that could be formed if Leonard and George become unrestricted free agents in 2021.
As The Athletic’s Michael Lee wrote, “We’ve reached the stage where an exit should be the expectation.” Nothing can be assumed in the NBA, especially when it comes to the future of superstars.
The Clippers pulled off an unlikely Leonard-George heist this summer, but the real work has only just begun.
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