LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has officially opted out of the final year of his contract, making him an unrestricted free agent, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports.
Leonard declined his player option, worth $36 million and would be considered the most sought-after free agent in the class. However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojarowski says that “the expectation is that Leonard will negotiate a new deal to stay with Clippers.” Though there were some rumblings that Leonard would test the free agency waters a few weeks ago, it appears these were nothing more than just rumblings (though nothing is set in stone).
Now that Leonard has opted out, he has a few options if he does indeed wish to remain a Clipper. He can sign a one-year deal worth $39.3 million in order to give the Clippers full Bird rights starting in 2022-23. This would allow them to offer him a max five-year deal in the summer of 2022. He could also sign long-term with LA now, but the team can only offer a four-year deal with the early Bird rights they hold.
It is unclear how Leonard’s recent ACL surgery will impact his decision, contract-wise. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Leonard will miss the entirety of the 2021-22 season. Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank spoke of Leonard’s recovery on draft night Thursday, stating that it’s “going to require a great deal of time.” Perhaps Leonard will elect to take the four-year deal now, given the uncertainty of his knee and his storied injury history. Having said that, if Leonard was looking for security over maximum dollars, he could've just opted into the final year of his contract and signed an extension with LA. This would've ultimately netted him more money. All signs point to Leonard signing a one-year deal.
Free agency officially begins on Monday, Aug. 2 at 3 p.m.