August 13, 2021

Why the L.A. Clippers Have No Choice But to Bend to Kawhi Leonard’s Will

After the Clippers fell short in this year's Western Conference Finals, it became a foregone conclusion that Kawhi Leonard would re-sign with Los Angeles.

Leonard opted out of the final year of his contract but waited several days before deciding to ink a new pact with Los Angeles. The Clippers announced Thursday that Leonard inked a four-year deal worth $176.3 million max deal including a $48.7 million player option for the 2024-25 season. 

"Kawhi is a transcendent player and a relentless worker who improves himself every day," said Lawrence Frank, the team's president of basketball operations, in a statement. "We share many of the same goals, which include a long-term relationship. This agreement marks another important moment for our franchise and our fans, as we strive to create a championship-caliber organization, where players find the success and fulfillment they seek. We're eager to continue building with Kawhi."

The length of the contract is a bit surprising, given that Leonard could have inked a two-year deal with a player option for the 2022-23 campaign. It would have allowed him to become a free agent and secure a five-year, $235 million contract with the Clippers.

Leonard looked to take the cautious route as he’s expected to miss the bulk of next season due to surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL. His decision speaks to him taking the guaranteed money over the potential risk of losing out on millions if he struggles to return to form or deals with lingering health issues.

Leonard’s new contract now locks him into place through at least the next three seasons. Although there were rising concerns around Leonard’s situation, the star forward holds the ultimate control over the franchise. 

Since his arrival to Los Angeles, he’s stayed in the driver’s seat with the organization. He’s used his star power to orchestrate the move to the Clippers, which the team bent to his will to land him. 

It’s hard to envision that standing will change as he’s a bonafide superstar that has proven he can guide a franchise to an NBA as he did in his lone campaign with the Toronto Raptors. Yes, the Clippers have Paul George and several other talented players, but it’s Leonard who can lift them over the top in the playoffs. 

That could have been the case this past postseason if he hadn’t suffered a torn ACL against the Utah Jazz. If he’s able to stay healthy, there is no reason to believe he won’t continue to play at a high level as he did in the playoffs averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists while shooting 57.3% from the floor in 11 games.

The Clippers are taking a risk, but it’s a calculated one, with their star forward. With Leonard getting the contract he wanted this offseason, it only further cements that he holds the control in Los Angeles, not the front office.

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