Kawhi Leonard took his time this summer, but eventually the Clippers star forward inked a 4-year, $176 million deal (with a player option in the fourth year) to stay in L.A.
It wasn’t the most money Leonard could have made, as taking a 1+1 contract, opting out, and then inking a 5-year max would’ve gotten him more annually, but coming off of an ACL tear, the star chose some stability with his contract decision. On Monday, Leonard spoke with the assembled media in Los Angeles about that choice and explained that there were two main reasons for choosing the longer term deal. First was to avoid storylines about him leaving the Clippers after next year and showing his commitment to the franchise, and the second was to allow him to feel comfortable coming back and playing this season if he’s able by already having a long-term deal locked in.
Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard on his 3+1 contract: “The best situation for me was to do a 1+1, opt out & then sign a long-term, 5-year deal… I wanted to secure some money & come back if I was able to this year. If I had took the 1+1, I probably would have not played to be cautious.” pic.twitter.com/e5ONn89UZa
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 27, 2021
“Because I wanted to play,” Leonard says. “I mean, the best situation for me, to me, was to do a 1+1 and then opt out and sign a long-term, 5-year deal. But there’s a lot of concerns that that brings up for you guys and your job and it creates storylines that I’m going to leave the team. One thing, I wanted to secure some money, and I wanted to be able to come back if I was able to this year. If I would’ve took the 1+1, I probably would’ve not played just to be cautious and opted out and took a 5-year. I’m here. I’m here to be a Clipper. I’m not going to another team unless something drastic happens, but I’m here for the long run.”
It’s about as open and honest an answer as you’ll ever see from a player about a contract decision, and it’s clear that Kawhi wants to shut the door on any kind of rumors that he would leave the Clippers — again, as he says, barring something drastic. There were rumblings about it last year, but when Leonard chose L.A. he did so because of his family and nothing has changed in that regard, so he’s making sure there’s no confusion about his long-term plans.
More importantly to this season is the part about him hoping to play at some point this season. His ACL surgery was in mid-July and rehab on such an injury is, typically, anywhere from 8-12 months which does provide a window for a return. That said, each person rehabs differently and with his quad issues he’s had in the past, one would think there will be plenty of attention paid to ensure he’s not hurrying back at the risk of furthering any other problems. That said, the Clippers are a team with title aspirations and likely can’t reach those heights without Leonard, so if he could return for the playoffs that would very much change the calculus out West.