DALLAS - The top NBA free agent on the market is set to be Kawhi Leonard if he declines his $36 million player option for the 2021-22 season.
The LA Clippers announced on Tuesday that Leonard underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ACL. There was no timetable provided for his potential return to basketball activities in advance of his free agency.
Leonard has a legitimate injury history and is already 30-years-old, so could his latest need for surgery scare a few teams off? This will be something to watch when considering how the Mavericks have previously been linked as a potential destination for Leonard in free agency.
On July 1, the Mavericks and Miami Heat will make a 'hard push' to acquire Kawhi Leonard this offseason, as first reported by The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor
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?
When focusing specifically on the Mavericks, O'Connor noted how Dallas is considered by 'some executives' as the 'most serious threat' to sign Leonard, if he were to depart from the Clippers.
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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.
While there will be no shortage of options that Leonard faces in free agency, there is a real case to be made that Dallas would be an attractive landing spot to choose. It will be a highly competitive landscape regardless of his knee surgery.
The fact still remains that Leonard is expected to remain with the Clippers but his free agency remains something to monitor. Could he be more motivated to lock in a long-term deal this offseason? Or will he look to pursue his path to a $246 million contract by taking a one-year deal with a player-option for 2022-23 to which he will later decline?
The Clippers will be highly motivated to retain him when considering how much of their future NBA Draft assets they traded to form the duo in the Paul George trade. Money should be no object for Los Angeles when it comes to paying Leonard as a result.
From Leonard's perspective, being able to rely on Luka Doncic to shoulder the brunt of the load could become more intriguing coming off a surgery to repair a partially torn ACL. With Doncic, there would be less nightly pressure to be the top producing talent on the team.
While it remains unclear how much of the 2021-22 season that Kawhi Leonard will miss, the Mavericks certainly should not be deterred in their pursuit. Regardless, he will need to want to come to Dallas (or most importantly, leave Southern California), but if that were the case, it would be worthwhile.