The LA Clippers had their most successful season in franchise history. It was, by all accounts, their best year, but they still fell short of their ultimate goal of winning an NBA Championship. Paul George did all he could, Reggie Jackson played his way into a lot of money, and Tyronn Lue coached his ass off, but the injuries to Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Ivica Zubac were too much to overcome.
Now, the Clippers enter their second most important offseason to date. The first was a resounding success, landing Kawhi Leonard in free agency and trading for Paul George. The second will come down to re-signing Leonard, if he indeed opts out of his player option to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest things the Clippers have to decide on in order to make a return to the Conference Finals and finish the job next season.
1. Kawhi Leonard’s Free Agency
This is obvious, but the Clippers need Kawhi Leonard back this summer. He’s hinted in prior press conferences at declining his player option in order to secure a long-term deal.
“Just for my situation right now, I’m just focused on this season,” Kawhi Leonard told members of the media back in December 2020. “Not saying I’m going anywhere else or staying here, but I’m just focused on the season. Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option, 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.”
Leonard just played in his 10th season in the NBA and is now eligible for a supermax contract this summer, a deal worth 35 percent of the team’s salary cap. Per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, that means Kawhi Leonard could be looking at a four-year, $176.2 million contract. He could also opt into the final year of his deal and sign a four-year extension from there, meaning he’ll be signed for the next five years, through the 2025-26 season.
Leonard, 30, is coming off a sprained ACL, which puts some doubt into his durability and health, especially as he gets another year older. Between his quad injury and this ACL injury, Leonard’s best option might be to take the money, but he has a number of options and the Clippers will back up the Brinks truck for him either way.
At this point, there isn’t a strong belief that Leonard will leave the Clippers in free agency. He’s purchased multiple properties in Southern California over the last few years and has become deeply invested in the LA and Moreno Valley communities.
Paul George showed Leonard the ultimate commitment when he signed the four-year, $190 million extension last summer.
“I spoke to Paul, he felt comfortable here,” Leonard said of his conversations with George after his extension. “He loves the city, he’s obviously from here, so I think from his standpoint, he did a great job of coming to me and telling me how he feels before signing the contract.”
When asked about his plans for recruiting Kawhi Leonard in free agency, Paul George planned to do whatever necessary to bring him back with no hard feelings towards any free agents.
“Well, one of the commitments I made signing my contract was to show I’m here for the long run and I’m committed to this team,” George said after the Clippers’ Game 6 loss. “Hopefully that weighs on anybody’s decision. But it’s no hard feelings. You know, these guys, they got decisions to make on their own. I will definitely try to, I don’t know, I haven’t talked to any of them. But hopefully this is where they want to continue to play and grow and be something and do something special in the long run.
“I’m definitely going to try my hardest to recruit. That’s all I could do.”
We’ll see how hard George recruits and how it affects, if at all, Kawhi’s decision.