Kawhi Leonard Rumors: Knicks, Heat, Mavericks Linked to Clippers Star If He Tests FA

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVJuly 1, 2021

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard sits in a suite during the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks are expected to be among the teams pursuing Kawhi Leonard if he explores leaving the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency this summer.

Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported the Heat and Mavs plan a "hard push" to acquire Leonard, who missed the Clippers' Western Conference Finals loss to the Phoenix Suns with a knee injury.

Leonard has a player option for the 2021-22 season, but it's procedural. The five-time All-Star is a lock to opt out of his contract, either to sign a larger long-term deal with the Clippers or bolt his hometown team after two seasons.

Under the NBA's salary structure, Leonard is eligible for a contract that starts at 35 percent of the salary cap because he is a 10-year veteran.

There has been no indication Leonard is in any way unhappy with the Clippers. They were the first franchise he chose to play for in his career—he was traded for both by the Spurs and Raptors—and he's a known homebody who has embraced playing in Los Angeles.

That said, the only thing we know about Leonard is we do not know anything about him. The famously private star likely does not want the same level of attention he received during his last free agency. It would be a surprise if Leonard or anyone in his camp tipped his hand if he did want to leave.

The Heat, Mavericks and Knicks all have their various levels of intrigue. Dallas would offer a chance to play with Luka Doncic, giving Leonard his first chance to play with another top-10 player in his prime. Miami has Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, along with organizational respect that starts at the top and runs through the whole franchise. The Knicks would give Leonard a chance at continuing the upward trend that began last season at Madison Square Garden.

That said, it would be a major surprise if Leonard bolted. Paul George already doubled down on his commitment to the franchise, and the partnership with Leonard has unfinished business after two straight years without a championship.

Even subtracting the basketball reasons, Leonard has been an open book about wanting to play in his hometown. Only a major falling out—and we've heard nothing of the sort—would likely cause him to head elsewhere.