Marc Stein: Today’s @Spotify Greenroom discussion about Kawhi Leonard was based on what I reported last Friday via Substack: https://marcstein.substack.com/p/bucks-cp3-got-what-they-wanted There are teams that no longer make the blanket assumption that Kawhi will stay with the Clippers and plan to pursue him if they get the chance.
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The most likely scenario, league sources say, remains Leonard opting out to re-sign with the Clippers — or, in Steve Ballmer’s worst nightmare, to shock the league by signing elsewhere. Leonard’s well-known affinity for Southern California has led various rival front offices to presume that he would have no interest in switching teams for the third time, but the notion that Leonard is unattainable seems to be waning a bit as the Aug. 2 start of free agency nears.
Dallas, just to name one expected suitor, will not be dissuaded from pursuing Leonard even if he’s forced to miss all of next season, league sources say. Leonard’s situation is frequently likened to Kevin Durant’s free agency in 2019 after Durant had sustained a torn Achilles tendon in the Finals. Brooklyn furnished Durant with a four-year, $164 million deal as part of a sign-and-trade with Golden State, with the Nets knowing they would have to play a whole season without him. Even at 30 and with a worrisome injury history, Leonard appears capable of generating similar interest.
One executive I spoke to following the announcement that Kawhi had surgery to repair the partially torn ACL said he thinks no matter what, Kawhi would opt out, especially given the fact that Kevin Durant got the max after he suffered a ruptured Achilles. That executive also noted that Kawhi’s going to hit the 10-year mark for his years of service, which plays a role in upping his max contract as well.
The Kawhi Leonard whispers will continue until he’s re-signed. It’s unclear how Leonard’s surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL will impact his free agency, but plenty of teams will remain interested in landing his services.
League insiders still discuss how the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler was purportedly ranked high on a list Leonard provided Clippers brass during his free agency in 2019 before Los Angeles landed Paul George. Those same voices also noted to Bleacher Report a string of messaging from Dallas in recent weeks about their interest in Leonard.
Marc Stein: No established timetable for Kawhi Leonard’s return, Clippers say. Leonard has a player option for next season to return to the Clippers … or he can opt for free agency.
We polled five executives around the league to get a barometer of what they think Kawhi is going to do, and they all felt he was ultimately going to stay with the Clippers.
Though the severity of Leonard’s right knee injury is not known publicly, he is in a rare class of NBA star who could still command top dollar if he isn’t fully healthy when free agency begins. But should he return — a possibility that league insiders continue to believe is the most likely option, while reiterating the difficulty of reading Leonard’s intentions — his injury could dictate the Clippers’ plans in other ways.
The Mavericks and Heat plan to make a hard push to acquire Leonard, league sources say. The Knicks will also pursue any superstar that becomes available, and a long list of other suitors would at least make an attempt if he hits the market. Who wouldn’t want a 30-year-old two-time Finals MVP still performing at an All-NBA level?
Dallas is considered by some executives to be the most serious threat to land Kawhi because of Luka Doncic’s presence and the front office’s ability to create maximum cap space or work out a sign-and-trade. During Leonard’s years with Nike, he also developed a good relationship with Nico Harrison, the Mavs’ new general manager and a former longtime executive at the company.
All five of the NBA executives polled believe Leonard will ultimately remain with the Clippers after his free agency concludes and look to run it back with George and compete for another shot at the championship. “I figure they have to make some changes and run it back with those two guys,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype. “You’ve got to give it another chance, I think. They just hired Ty Lue for this group. It wasn’t a normal season. You’ve got to give it a normal season a chance first, I’d think.”
All that said, signs still point to Leonard staying. In March, he reportedly purchased a $17.1 million home in Pacific Palisades, a coastal neighborhood of Los Angeles. While buying a mansion isn’t a guarantee that he’s planning to re-sign long-term, multiple league executive sources say Kawhi no longer travels via helicopter from his other home in San Diego, like he often did before Kobe Bryant’s passing in January 2020.
It’s worth noting that in 2019 Lillard was on Leonard’s list of stars he wanted to team up with, league sources say. But Lillard has four seasons remaining on his contract. Portland doesn’t need to trade him. If it came to the point where a trade was inevitable, Los Angeles wouldn’t have many goodies to add to a trade involving George, and if the Blazers would rather have younger players and picks, the Clippers would easily be outbid.
If Leonard wants to maximize his future earnings, he can re-sign with the Clippers on a two-year deal worth $81.8 million with a player option after the first season. He can then opt out and re-sign with the Clippers in the 2022 offseason on a five-year deal worth $235 million. This process would net him $274 million over the next six years through his age-36 season. Assuming he’s still playing at a high level, he can extend in the 2025 offseason to secure an additional $119.1 million over two years.
The only recent playoff teams that can get to maximum cap space for him are Dallas and New York. The Clippers would likely lose him without getting anything back if he were to walk to one of those teams.
The buzz around the league is consistent; expect a return to the Clippers. But Leonard is not exactly the most communicative superstar in the NBA.
Adrian Wojnarowski: I think Kawhi is staying with the Clippers. There’s been some mention of Miami… Could Miami be a sleeper for him? I think he’s where he wants to be geographically. I think he’s gotten along very well with the organization, with management, with ownership. I think Ty Lue has been really been good this year for them. The way it’s been described with me with Ty in LA is, “Ty can hit you without leaving a bruise.” And he can coach you hard, can hold guys accountable. And I think that’s an environment Kawhi likes, I think it’s been good for this team.
Yet barring a dramatic turn of events in these coming months, it’s looking like this Leonard free agency will be decidedly less dramatic. While this league has certainly taught us to expect the unexpected, the truth is that Leonard is still widely, well, expected to re-sign with the Clippers. As it stands, that’s the word from Clippers sources and rival executives alike.
As of today, there is no reason to think Leonard’s packing his bags. One non-Clippers executive placed the odds of Leonard leaving L.A. this summer at less than one percent. But the whole NBA is well aware Kawhi has the option to turn down his $36 million extension this summer to become a free agent. The team generously affords him the luxury of commuting from his home in San Diego even if he’s late to team activities. Most people think he’ll stay. But no one I talked to really knows what he’s thinking and this is the NBA. Superstar turnover is the norm.
A round of phone calls with front office executives clarifies this tremendously: Teams didn’t offer their best assets now because Bradley Beal and Kawhi Leonard could be available this summer, and if you empty the cupboard now you’ll never be in position to get them then.
Mark Medina on Kawhi Leonard: The Clippers, when I’ve asked them after the George extension how they’re feeling, they were optimistic. Look, they’re also not naive that NBA developments can always change. He’s used player movement to his advantage, but unlike the time in Toronto, he always had a hope to come back to his hometown.
Andrew Greif: Kawhi Leonard, referencing his own potential free agency, said he’s “just focused on this season.” Added that: “If I stay healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option but it doesn’t mean I’m staying or leaving.”
With George extending, there’s a belief Kawhi Leonard will also remain a Clipper long-term. Leonard has a $36 million player option for next season. If he opts out, he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021.
Of course, the receipt on George can be crumpled and thrown in the trash if it means that it guarantees that Kawhi Leonard will stay a Clipper, too. Kawhi isn’t eligible for an extension until next offseason, when he has the option to become a free agent. As we saw this season, a lot can happen in a year, but multiple front office sources said the timing and intent behind the extension is also a way of showing Kawhi that the franchise is committed to competing with that duo.
And while he said he wouldn’t put “a gun to Kawhi,” George later acknowledged he has a responsibility to make sure Leonard remains a Clipper. “The responsibility is to make him feel like the way I felt when I came into my extension,” George said. “I knew where I wanted to be. I knew who I wanted to play with. That’s my responsibility to go into the season. “Again, it’s Kawhi’s decision. I’m a grown man. If he decides to go elsewhere, that’s a decision that I’ll be happy for him. But my hoping and my responsibility, what I would love, is to play with him for the rest of my contract or the rest of his contract. I guess I have to work on that when it comes to his time.”
The Heat have paid close attention to the blockbuster free agency class of 2021 that could include Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George, sources said, which could keep the organization focused on keeping their salary books as clean as possible in the coming two seasons.
Rachel Nichols: Kawhi on how close he was to choosing the Lakers or Raptors instead of the Clippers: “I was very close. Real close. But when [the Clippers] presented the opportunity of playing with Paul, it was easy, it was a yes. I said let’s get it going.”
JD Shaw: The Los Angeles Clippers have officially signed Kawhi Leonard: pic.twitter.com/DgGDlPShLb
Kevin Chouinard: Clips made Kawhi signing official. Lawrence Frank: “We are grateful and honored that Kawhi has decided to come home and join the L.A. Clippers.” pic.twitter.com/hs6nJRQnmM
But as the Kawhi camp also made escalating demands, the Raptors began to feel that Kawhi and his people were focused on Los Angeles. Kawhi was in Toronto from Wednesday to Friday, and was indeed on the company plane as it flew back to San Diego on Friday morning. No short-term contract was discussed. The Raptors could offer a five-year, $190-million deal: one more year and more guaranteed money than anybody else.
The showdown concluded Friday night, with the league’s balance of power at stake. The Raptors engaged with Oklahoma City in trade talks, though not at the highest levels. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook was believed to be interested in playing with Kawhi, but sources say he was never discussed in talks with the Raptors. And even then, the ask for George was astronomical: Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and four unprotected first-round picks, before they even started matching up salaries to account for George’s higher number. Perhaps that would have been where Westbrook came in, but not likely.
But players run this league, and it was always up to Kawhi to decide. Sources familiar with Kawhi’s thinking indicate Los Angeles was always the plan, in concert with championship contention, and if anything it was a credit to the Raptors that they made it a difficult decision.
The title closed the gap. When Butler decided to sign with Miami instead when free agency opened, it seemed like a blow to the Clippers. Sources indicate Kawhi was genuinely undecided at the time; he wasn’t ready to leave Toronto yet. By Thursday night, sources say the Clippers were telling people in the league they thought Kawhi was going back to Toronto.
The Lakers couldn’t have traded for George if they wanted to. They had emptied their cupboard in trading for Davis and had nothing left to give. According to a person familiar with their thinking, they had no idea that the Clippers and Raptors were attempting to trade for George to give Leonard his desired teammate.
Ramona Shelburne: Key details from Bruce here: Kawhi was indeed in Toronto from Wed-Friday and on the MLSE plane back to San Diego Friday morning. But “For the last two to three days, sources say the Raptors did not believe Kawhi was truly serious about returning to Toronto.“
“It’s certainly disappointing,” Nurse admitted after first saying Leonard’s decision to return to his native Los Angeles was not a total surprise. “I think we all knew that was a situation that could happen and he delivered big-time,” Nurse said at half-time of Toronto’s Summer League game against the Golden State Warriors. “He’s first of all a great person. He was unbelievably fun to coach, just locked in, loaded and ready to go. When people would ask me what was it like coaching him and I always said the best thing was I got to stand there on the courtside and watch this guy go to work. And that was something I’ll never forget. Now we’ve got to go kick his ass,” Nurse said with a smile, echoing the words point guard Fred VanVleet had uttered about Toronto’s task should Leonard become a former teammate.
Justin Trudeau: Sad to see you go, @Kawhi Leonard & @Danny Green! Thank you for helping the @Raptors bring home our first NBA championship. The whole team inspired a new generation of Canadian basketball fans and talent.
Eric Koreen: Masai Ujiri via team statement on Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green pic.twitter.com/oA4xV5COTh
Blake Griffin thinks Kawhi Leonard choosing the Clippers is “good for basketball” … but warns the superstar that L.A. definitely has it’s ups and downs! Griffin would know … he spent 8 seasons with the L.A. Clippers before being traded to the Detroit Pistons in early 2018. In fact, Blake still spends a bunch of his time in Los Angeles — he was at the famous Comedy Store on Friday night — so, we asked him about Kawhi’s big move.
“I think it’s good for basketball, good for L.A.,” Griffin told TMZ Sports … “I think it’ll bring a little bit more balance to the Los Angeles basketball scene, so its good!” But, when we asked Blake if he preferred L.A. to other cites, the 30-year-old didn’t try and sugarcoat his answer. “No, to be honest. I think playing in another city now I see the advantages and disadvantages to playing in different places.” He added, “Everything has a positive and a negative. It just depends on what you value.”
Enter Paul George, the Oklahoma City star who sources say was heavily recruited by Leonard in those days leading up to his trade demand and this blockbuster deal that pairs the two of them with the Clippers. Talk about the least likely of pitchmen. The league’s quietest talent, the man whose one-of-a-kind laugh has been dissected like the Zapruder film and who so many were still convinced was a cyborg because of his robotic ways, got this deal done by selling a fellow Southern California native in the kind of way that left the Thunder with no choice but to make this move. “Kawhi recruited the hell out of him,” one source close to the situation said. “He did a number on Paul.”
Ramona Shelburne: Much will be made of the Lakers and Raptors end of this. But as of about 2 hours before Leonard chose the Clippers Friday night, his camp was asking the Lakers to delay the AD trade until Sat/Sun, sources tell ESPN. No reason given. Just a condition.
It became clear later, sources said Friday night, that George and Leonard had been engaging in conversations about playing together. Within the last week, sources said, Leonard sold George on the notion of pairing up on the Clippers — a sales pitch strong enough George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, communicated to OKC a desire to trade his client.
If George didn’t get his wish, would he be fully engaged? And if he wasn’t, would he go public with his trade demand during the season? That worst-case scenario could have left the Thunder with a disgruntled superstar undercutting his own trade value. There was no easy way out for Oklahoma City. But there was a strong sense, sources said, the Clippers needed George to secure Leonard. And that gave the Thunder some leverage that was unlikely to be available in the future.
George demanded this trade of the Thunder, making it clear in recent days that if they didn’t cooperate he would keep looking for ways to join Leonard in these final two seasons of his contract (he has a player option for 2021-22 worth $37.8 million). They worried about the alternative scenarios, about what those trade offers might look like next year once everyone knew that he had wanted out.
Some time in the last few days, George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, called Thunder general manager Sam Presti and requested George be traded. It was a complete and total blindside to the Thunder, but came because Kawhi Leonard had been working to recruit George to join him with the Los Angeles Clippers. In the end, despite George signing a four-year deal with the Thunder last summer, he remained a free agent.
Chris Haynes: Kawhi Leonard and his camp found it comical throughout the process that he was “reportedly” headed to every team but the Clippers. In the end, his small circle kept everyone guessing. And that’s what occurred: guessing.
Evan Turner: Give kawhi his statue, Toronto
Adam Wexler: Pat Beverley & Lou Williams tonight after they added two new teammates (Kawhi & Paul George). (via Pat Bev’s IG).
Bobby Marks: Toronto will have the full $9.2M midlevel exception and $3.6M biannual exception available to use. The Raptors are over the salary cap even with Kawhi Leonard not returning.
Michael Lee: Clippers made their intentions known how much they wanted Kawhi. Had a pro personnel scout at every game. Doc Rivers took a tampering fine for him. For a loyal guy who chose San Diego State over bigger programs because of its early interest & persistence, this makes so much sense
Ryan Wolstat: Kawhi Leonard lost $90 million (Spurs and Raptors) to eventually team up with Paul George with the Clippers. Would never have happened in the old days when contracts weren’t so high. Would have been way too much money to leave on the table. In era of $30-40M+/yr deals not as big.
Quincy Pondexter: Will drake make a diss track?..
Adrian Wojnarowski: Sources: Leonard and George met in LA earlier in week. Clippers had long been frontrunners for Leonard, but it is unlikely he would’ve made final leap to sign without PG trade. Clippers imagined Leonard as part of a Lakers Big 3 — and knew they had no choice. They did OKC deal.
Adrian Wojnarowski: In the end, Kawhi Leonard didn’t want to construct a Super Team with the Lakers. He wanted a co-star across the Staples corridor with the Clippers, and made it clear to Steve Ballmer and Lawrence Frank: Get PG, and I’m coming.
Sam Amick: Source, to @TheAthletic: After a heavy recruiting effort from Kawhi Leonard, Paul George made it very clear to OKC in recent days that this Clippers trade is what he wanted. He gets his trade demand fulfilled, and now Russell Westbrook’s future is certainly in question.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Sources: As expected, Kawhi Leonard: four-year, $142M maximum contract.
Brett Dawson: Paul George wanted to play with Kawhi Leonard, and the Thunder acted quickly to maximize what they could get out of that desire. I’ve not been told Westbrook is requesting a trade. But logic dictates as OKC loads up on picks and moves off George that it’ll look to move him.
Brett Dawson: Per a league source, the Thunder were caught off guard by Paul George’s desire to play with Kawhi Leonard after a strong recruiting effort from Leonard. The whole situation unfolded in recent days.
Bobby Marks: Timeline for LAC 1. Leonard will sign with cap space 2. Danilo Gallinari/Gilgeous-Alexander for Paul George using the 125% trade exception
Ira Winderman: Remember, Clippers have Heat’s unprotected 2021 and lottery-protected 2023 to package. The first one originally was in the 2015 Dragic trade, the latest for the salary dump to add Jimmy Butler.
Jordan Clarkson: man im going to sleep wtf just happened how pg get involved
Isaiah Thomas: OMG
Patrick Patterson: Wow. It actually happened. Haha
Oleh Kosel: Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN right now: “Paul George came to the Thunder in the last couple of days and asked to be traded to the Clippers. He wanted to play with Kawhi Leonard.”
Free-agent forward Kawhi Leonard has agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Leonard is coming off an all-time NBA playoff run that saw him lead the Toronto Raptors to Canada’s first NBA title.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Sources: Oklahoma City is getting a massive package of future picks, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Galllinari, to deliver Kawhi Leonard who he wanted to partner with: Paul George.
Adrian Wojnarowski: After Leonard pushed George to find a way to get to the Clippers, Paul George approached the team and requested a trade, league sources tell ESPN. OKC was left with no choice and made the best out of a difficult situation, per sources.
Ekpe Udoh: Omgoodness ✌🏿
Miles Bridges: WOAHHHHHHHHHHH 😳😳😳
Jaren Jackson Jr.: The LAL v LAC game bouta be sum else👀👀
Chris Haynes: Free agent forward Kawhi Leonard will sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Free agent forward Kawhi Leonard has informed runners-up teams of his plans: He’s signing with the Clippers, league sources tell ESPN.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices, league sources tell ESPN.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Kawhi Leonard has been recruiting Paul George to find a way to get to the Clippers and LA pulled it off tonight: George goes to the Clippers with Leonard, and together they walk into Staples Center to go head-to-head with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Green said he talks to Leonard — who has maintained a low profile over the last week despite elaborate attempts to track his every move and brainwave — from time to time. But he, like the city of Toronto and the rest of the country, is still waiting for a decision. “Has it surprised me? No. Did I think it would take this long? No,” he said of Leonard’s deliberations over whether to stay and play for the Raptors, or leave for either the Clippers or Lakers in Los Angeles.
League sources told ESPN’s Bobby Marks that the Pelicans, Hawks and Wizards are expected to cooperate with the Lakers if Leonard is still undecided by noon on Saturday. The July 6 date was agreed upon initially in the Lakers’ and Pelicans’ deal sending Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks for Davis. The deal was based on the Lakers using the $32 million in cap space created on a max free agent like Leonard or on multiple free agents.
If the Pelicans, Hawks and Wizards do not agree to delay the date to make the trade official past July 6 should Leonard remain undecided, the Lakers’ cap space would shrink to $30 million and Los Angeles would only be able to offer Leonard a four-year deal worth $127 million compared to the four-year, $138-million contract they can offer with $32 million available in cap space.
First Things First: “For Kawhi, this is about which organization is going to support his quest to be the best player in the world and get as many championships as possible. To me, the only team that presents that is the Lakers. I believe there’s going to be an announcement today.” — @criscarter80
As Kawhi Leonard takes his time deciding which NBA team he will sign with, fellow free agent Danny Green has done his best to not bother his longtime teammate throughout the process. “I try to leave him alone, man,” Green said on Thursday, per Yahoo Sports Canada. “I already know [what] the hectic process is about, and everybody is probably blowing his phone up. So if I do communicate to him…it’s through his camp.”
As the most sought-after basketball player in the world after leading Toronto to its first NBA championship, Leonard is no longer the teenager who never received scholarship offers from blue-blood colleges. Times have changed, but everything about Leonard’s quiet handling of free agency has felt familiar for Hutson, one of only a few people in the world who knows what it is like to recruit, and land, Leonard. The major influences on Leonard — his mother, Kim Robertson, and uncle, Dennis Robertson — are the same now as they were in high school. “He’s going to make [his decision] on his own terms, his own time,” Hutson said. “He’s going to talk to the people important to him about it. He’s not going to be out leaking every little bit or have an announcement.”
“It was a fun recruitment, but he didn’t talk a whole lot. It wasn’t hard having a conversation with him at all if you were one-on-one with him. He wasn’t going to waste words. I think there are people trying to see that now, that he does have a personality. He has a really good personality. He’s just not going to volunteer it.”
Chris Broussard: Kawhi Update: Raptors had strong meeting yesterday. Drake heavily involved. Talked of having Kawhi involved w/his OVO record label. Kawhi in deep soul searching. Wants Lakers but wants to make sure Big 3 will fit/work. Clippers out. It’s btwn Lakers & Raptors. Very close.
Jabari Young: On the Kawhi front, told he’s not making a decision tonight and it may not be until the next few days. He and his reps are going through the process and taking their time before deciding the next move. No 2-year deals have been discussed. #NBA @TheAthleticNBA
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July 24, 2021 | 3:04 am EDT Update
Simmons, the only All-Star known to be shopped by his team, is also unlikely to land with the Warriors. The 76ers are asking for a massive haul that includes an All-Star-level player. Per a league source, Golden State wouldn’t be willing to give up what it would take to get Simmons.
Could the 76ers trade the No. 28 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft at the Barclays Center? A league source confirmed the team has had discussions about parting with the pick if they can get value in return. The Sixers are open to trading it for future assets or a veteran player. Trade discussions could heat up early next week, though it’s not a certainty that they’ll trade the pick. The Sixers also have a second-round pick (50th).
Marc Stein on the Warriors: “The way it was described to me by a team that I’ll just say has been monitoring Golden State very closely is they want a star, the Warriors want a star… But, you know, who doesn’t want a star? Can you package 7 and 14 picks and James Wiseman and get a star? When we’re talking about stars, that’s basically code for Bradley Beal, or Damian Lillard. Are either one of those guys really in play at this draft? It’s probably more Lillard than Beal at this point but I just think the draft might come a step too soon for either one of those guys to be dealt.”
An opposing executive estimates Allen could receive around $20 million annually. Depending on the length of the deal, either four or five years, it could total close to $100 million.
The organization has spoken with the Indiana Pacers about a deal, with Myles Turner’s name being in those conversations, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported Friday morning. “They are having trade conversations, I have not seen reported that, I believe I had it in my story that they’ve had some conversations with the Pacers, the Pacers have been one of the more active teams, the name that I’ve heard involved in those conversations is Myles Turner,” O’Connor said on the “NBA Mismatch” podcast.