It has long been the conventional wisdom around the NBA that Kawhi Leonard would opt-out of his contract with the Clippers this summer, then re-sign with them for the max (either on a short-term deal or for the full five years). He had worked too hard to get to Los Angeles and be on a contender to bolt, sources told NBC Sports (and plenty of other reporters as well).
Now other teams aren’t as sure that’s a lock, and three teams that had set themselves up to go big game hunting this offseason — Dallas, Miami, and New York — will chase him, Marc Stein said on a Spotify Green Room event on Friday (hat tip NBA Reddit).
“The Mavs will try to do everything they can to get Kawhi Leonard. The Knicks and the Heat will try as well. The situation with Kawhi is no longer a safe assumption he’s staying with the Clippers.”
Leonard will be out most, if not all, of next season recovering from his partially torn ACL. But, much like with Kevin Durant after his torn Achilles, the ACL and time off will not stop teams from chasing Leonard. He is such an elite player and a proven champion he is worth it.
Dallas has Luka Doncic, which is a draw to anyone chasing a ring. It also has Nico Harrison as GM, the former Nike executive Leonard reportedly has a strong relationship with from when Leonard was with that company (although that sponsorship deal got ugly at the end).
It still seems it would be difficult to pull Leonard out of Los Angeles, a team deep with talent that reached the Western Conference Finals, a franchise he pushed to be with and one that has bent over backward to accommodate him, and one with an owner fully committed to paying and doing what it takes to win. Sources that have spoken with NBC Sports still expect him to re-sign with the Clippers.
But reading into Leonard’s intentions is about like reading into his facial expressions — good luck with that.
Nobody should be shocked by any move he makes.