NBA Exec: Kawhi Leonard Expected to Opt out of Clippers Contract After ACL Surgery

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVJuly 14, 2021

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) controls the ball during Game 7 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday, June 6, 2021, in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Even after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL, Kawhi Leonard could still test the waters of free agency this offseason.

Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype reported one executive expects Leonard to opt out of his contract "no matter what," noting Kevin Durant still received a max contract after rupturing his Achilles.

Leonard could also miss significant time after suffering a torn ACL, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic. The Los Angeles Clippers forward suffered the injury during the second-round matchup against the Utah Jazz and missed his team's final eight playoff games.

The 30-year-old now must decide on his $36 million player option for 2021-22.

"Obviously, if I'm healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option," Leonard had said in December.

The latest injury could alter his plans, but Leonard would arguably still be the top option on the open market.

The five-time All-Star is considered one of the best two-way players in the NBA, finishing last season with averages of 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He has especially proved himself in the postseason while leading both the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors to titles. He won the Finals MVP award in both championship runs.

An interested team could sign Leonard to a max deal and wait for his contributions down the line, even if he misses all of 2021-22.

Both Durant and Klay Thompson signed new deals in 2019 despite the expectation they would miss the upcoming season. Thompson missed a second season with another injury, although Durant returned in 2020-21 to play at a high level for the Brooklyn Nets.

According to Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer, the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks will make a "hard push" for Leonard this offseason while the New York Knicks could also be an option.

The Clippers could also re-sign the forward even if he opts out, keeping him alongside Paul George through at least the 2023-24 season.