The Los Angeles Clippers pulled off the coup of the offseason when they signed Kawhi Leonard and paired him with Paul George via a shocking trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Following the blockbuster move, most had the Clippers listed as the NBA title favorites for the upcoming season and the foreseeable future, and for good reason.
But their reign -- if it materializes -- might not last as long as some initially thought.
While the first reports had Leonard signing a four-year deal with the Clippers, that reportedly is not the case, The Athletic's Sham Charania reported Wednesday.
Kawhi Leonard has signed his Los Angeles Clippers contract — a three-year, $103M maximum contract with a player option in the third season, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 10, 2019
This certainly is an interesting development.
By signing a two-plus-one contract, Leonard lines his contract up with George's and also gives the Clippers two seasons to prove the franchise can deliver on what they promised the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
Should their time with the Clippers prove unfruitful, Leonard and George both can become free agents in the summer of 2021, joining a class that will or could include Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo and Blake Griffin.
There's a reason most teams that missed out on big names this summer (Lakers and Knicks), signed players to two-year contracts, hoping to keep their books open for what could be a landscape-shifting summer in 2021.
Leonard's decision also could be good news for the currently healing Warriors. As Golden State looks to reboot its dynasty around Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and D'Angelo Russell, the Western Conference is more dangerous than it's ever been. But if Leonard and George's time with the Clippers only lasts 24 months, then having a funeral for the Warriors' dynasty might have been a bit premature.
While this upcoming season might have to serve as a recharging year for Curry and Co., a healthy Warriors team still could cause issues in the revamped Western Conference come playoff time. After that, the Dubs might only have to contend with Leonard's Clippers for one more season before potentially climbing back to the top of the Western Conference depending on where the dominoes fall.
With a few years left of Curry and Thompson's prime, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Dubs once again anoint themselves as the Western Conference's premier team, especially if Leonard and George don't stay with the Clippers long term.
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The Warriors also undoubtedly have their eye on what looks to be a vaunted 2021 free-agent class. Golden State's cap situation still will be tenuous at that time, though, with Curry being owed $45.7 million and Thompson $37.9 million in 2021-22. The Warriors also are likely to offer Green a max extension which would add to their cap constraints. The Warriors could look to trade Russell before then -- and likely will -- but the cap room gained from that wouldn't be enough to ink a max guy.
So while I wouldn't put it past Bob Myers to try and snag a big name in 2021, it will not be easy to manipulate the cap in the necessary fashion to orchestrate such a move.
This also could be a play by Leonard to recoup some of the value he's lost in demanding a trade from the San Antonio Spurs and leaving the Raptors after one season. In order to be eligible for a five-year, 35 percent max contract with eight percent raises per year, a player must have three consecutive seasons with the same team to qualify. By structuring his contract this way, Leonard can either sign a four-year 35 percent max deal with five percent raises after Year 2 with the Clippers or sign a five-year 35 percent max with eight percent raises after Year 3.
That would be less ideal for the former kings of the Western Conference and the rest of the NBA.
Or, this could just be about the leverage.
Either way, it looks like the NBA will have two years of relative stability before possibly shaking up like a snow globe again.