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Clippers star Kawhi Leonard plans to enter 2021 free agency

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers cuts back during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 13, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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Clippers star Kawhi Leonard holds a $36,016,200 player option for next season.

Leonard, via Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register:

“Just for my situation right now, I’m just focused on this season,” said Leonard, who isn’t extension-eligible. “Not saying I’m going anywhere else or staying here, but I’m just focused on the season. Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying.

This was always the obvious plan, and I appreciate Leonard being open about it rather than pretending otherwise.

When Leonard signed with the Clippers last year, he inked a three-year contract with a player option. He was two years from 10 years of service, which will make him eligible for a higher max-salary tier (35% of the salary cap). The third-year player option was just a safeguard in case something went wrong.

Next summer, Leonard will be eligible for a max salary of at least $39,344,970 (higher if NBA revenue this season is more than projected). That’s obviously more than his player-option salary ($36,016,200).

Even if Leonard decides committing to the Clippers for exactly one more year is his best course, he’d opt out and re-sign to secure a higher salary next season. He’d also make it a two-year deal with a player option, again getting insurance in case something goes wrong.

The Clippers remain heavy favorites to re-sign Leonard. Not that much has changed since he picked them just a year-and-a-half ago.

They’re still in his native Southern California. They still have Paul George, Leonard’s self-selected co-star. They still have a strong overall roster and the financial commitment to keep it humming.

Leonard isn’t even expected to explore other teams.

But because he’s headed toward 2021 free agency, Leonard will have the ability to leave. Sometimes, players who’d sign an extension if allowed then re-think their situation by the time free agency opens. The Clippers’ chemistry problems loom as a treacherous variables.

As unlikely as Leonard is to leave, his departure would devastate the franchise.

That’s why there’s so much pressure on the Clippers this season.