Kawhi : 6:29 PM ET
Ohm YoungmisukESPN Staff Writer
- Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
Follow him on Twitter »
The deal includes a player option in the fourth year.
Leonard had previously declined his player option for $36 million the upcoming season to become a free agent. He told the team last Friday that he was returning to the Clippers, who finalized the deal nearly a week later.
“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.”
Leonard, 30, is expected to miss significant time next season as he makes his way back from surgery on July 13 to repair a partially torn right ACL that kept him out of the Clippers’ final eight playoff games.
Leonard could have signed a four-year, $187 million extension had he opted into the $36 million he was set to earn in the 2021-22 season. But he opted for free agency.
As a free agent, Leonard chose a longer-term deal instead of potentially signing a two-year, $82 million deal with a player option in 2022-23 and becoming a free agent again in 2022, which would have made him eligible to sign a five-year, $235 million max contract with the Clippers, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
Despite his injury, Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, has remained connected with the Clippers, joining other veterans such as Paul George and Reggie Jackson in attendance at the Clippers’ first two games this week at NBA summer league in Las Vegas.
“For now, we will do whatever we can to support him in his recovery from injury,” Frank said in the statement. “We look forward to seeing him back where he wants to be, on the court with his teammates.”
The Clippers have spent this offseason keeping their core largely intact after reaching their first Western Conference finals this past season, re-signing Leonard, Jackson and Nicolas Batum. Serge Ibaka opted in to the second year of his deal to return, and the team added free-agent forward Justise Winslow to help fill the void created by Leonard’s knee injury.
Leonard averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 52 regular-season games during his second year with the Clippers. He joined the Clippers as a free agent in the biggest summer of the franchise’s existence in 2019, when the team added Leonard and traded five first-round picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to Oklahoma City for George.
The Clippers have now signed both Leonard and George to long-term contracts. George signed a four-year, $190 million extension last December. Both Clippers stars have player options in their contracts aligned for the 2024-25 season. That also happens to be the same season when the Clippers plan to move into their new arena in Inglewood, California.
Before Leonard’s knee injury, the Clippers got a glimpse of their potential with Leonard and George playing their best basketball together on the playoff stage. Leonard averaged 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 57.3% in 11 postseason games. George averaged 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists during the playoffs.