Clippers lock up Kawhi Leonard with three-year, $152.4 million contract extension

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns

When the Clippers made a bold trade for James Harden, one of the big questions was, "What is next?" Their core of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Harden was older, injury-prone, expensive, and untested — was that the group the Clippers wanted to re-sign and ride into their new Intuit Dome next fall?

Yes it is. The Clippers have won 15-of-18 with this group, they have largely been healthy, the ball movement on offense is as good as anyone in the league, and Los Angeles looks like a team that could threaten Denver in the Western Conference playoffs.

With that, the Clippers announced they have agreed to an extension with Kawhi Leonard for a reported three years, $154.2 million after this season.

"We're thrilled to continue our relationship with Kawhi. He is an elite player, a terrific partner and a relentless worker who knows how to win and makes it his first priority," Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said in a statement. "He elevated our franchise from the moment he arrived. We feel fortunate that Kawhi chose to join the Clippers five years ago, and excited to keep building with him."

That contract is a little below the max Leonard could get ($161 million over three years). Leonard has looked as close to his vintage self this season as he has in years, playing 32 of the team's 36 games and averaging 23.8 points a game with an impressive 62.4 true shooting percentage, plus grabbing 6.1 rebounds and dishing out 3.4 assists a night while playing elite defense for stretches. He has been one of the 10 best players in the league this season and once again like a player who can be the anchor of a title contender.

Signing Leonard is step one. The Clippers are already negotiating with George for an extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Both George and Leonard have player options for next season at $48.8 million, and they have to opt out of those to sign new deals. Leonard's new deal reportedly starts at $50 million a season.

Then there is Harden, the Clippers can't extend him at market value under the terms of the CBA. Harden will become a free agent and — as he seems happy right now — is likely to re-sign with the Clippers. Los Angeles has his Bird rights and can go over the cap and into the luxury tax to sign him.

The Clippers will be deep into the tax with their three stars, limiting their ability to sign players off the buyout market, make trades, or take other team-building steps under the more punitive new CBA. That said, they have tradable salaries in role players plus a first-round pick they could trade for the right win-now role players. It gets expensive, but owner Steve Ballmer can handle it and is ultra-competitive.

If the Clippers are going to win anything big Leonard will be at the heart of it, and they have locked him up.