• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard can become free agent after declining player option

·2 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In a move that will either yield a long-term commitment with the Los Angeles Clippers or a surprising move elsewhere, Kawhi Leonard declined his $36 million player option for the 2021-22 season.

That enables the Clippers star to become an unrestricted free agent, beginning on Monday.

Most in NBA circles believe Leonard will simply return to the Clippers on a four-year deal worth $176.2 million. But that has not quieted some outside concern that Leonard could leave for elsewhere after having offseason surgery on a torn ACL in his right knee.

The injury sidelined him for Game 5 and 6 of the second-round series against the Utah Jazz and the entire Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shoots against the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of the second round.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shoots against the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of the second round.

The San Antonio Spurs had traded Leonard to the Toronto Raptors in the 2018 offseason partly because of his dissatisfaction with the handling of a right quad injury that sidelined him for all but nine games in the 2017-18 season.

But despite helping the Raptors to an NBA championship, Leonard left for the Clippers a season later in hopes of carving his path in LA after growing up in nearby Moreno Valley.

The Clippers have also supported Leonard’s deliberative and lengthy approach with rehabbing injuries. So even if the team has not won an NBA title for the two seasons Leonard has played here, Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank expressed optimism for having “a very long-term relationship with him.”

“Right now, our focus for Kawhi, just like his is, is his health,” Frank said after the NBA draft on Thursday. “He had major surgery. He tore his ACL. So that’s going to require a great deal of time, and we want to support him in that.”

The Clippers have not given an exact timetable on Leonard’s return. But Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson missed the entire 2019-20 season after tearing an ACL in his left knee in a decisive Game 6 loss to the Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals. That prompted Frank to talk about the Clippers being “competitive” next season as opposed to championship contenders.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA free agency: Clippers' Kawhi Leonard declines player option