Could Kawhi Leonard leave Clippers for Heat as free agent?
Kawhi Leonard will probably re-sign with the Clippers.
But Leonard is the type of superstar who can singlehandedly transform the NBA landscape. So, even if the odds strongly favor him staying in L.A., speculation still swirls around his free agency. The significance of him changing teams would be that significant.
Beyond the Clippers, much of the chatter has focused on the Heat.Evan Massey of NBA Analysis Network:
One NBA agent spoke to NBA Analysis Network about Leonard’s future and the possibility that he could leave the Clippers. He stated that the Heat would “intrigue” Leonard on the open market.
“Kawhi (Leonard) could very well listen to pitches from other teams. That is something that he is considering. If that does end up being the case, he would be intrigued at the possibility of joining the Miami Heat. Joining forces with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo is something that he would absolutely have interest in.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Rachel Nichols also brought up Leonard to Miami on “The Jump” (though while expressing doubt):
So much of today was about what's going to happen this summer - teams making decisions on whether to move or keep players with upcoming free agency demands. @WindhorstESPN on the mechanics there, including the Heat leaving themselves cap room in case Kawhi starts looking around: pic.twitter.com/5PIrtFcZ68— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) March 25, 2021
Leonard’s Clippers experience hasn’t gone as hoped so far. They were mired in chemistry problems then suffered a historic playoff collapse last season. Leonard has expressed more dissatisfaction this year. Paul George can sound insufferable. Sometimes, players find playing at home isn’t what they expected.
Leonard can (and intends to) opt out and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Even if he structured his contract that way planning to re-sign with the Clippers and maximize his salary once he reaches 10 years of experience, the player option gives him an opening to leave.
The Heat just made such an impressive showing as a winning franchise with their run to the 2020 NBA Finals. Before L.A. traded for George, Leonard reportedly wanted to team with Butler. Miami, like Leonard’s native Southern California, has warm weather.
But even if they trimmed their roster to just Butler and Adebayo, the Heat wouldn’t project to have max cap space for Leonard (a consequence of giving Adebayo a contract extension last offseason rather than waiting to re-sign him as a restricted free agent to a new deal with the same max terms this summer).
Miami could engineer a sign-and-trade by exercising Goran Dragic’s and Andre Iguodala’s team options and using them as matching salary. But the Clippers would obviously have to agree.
Would they help Leonard leave? Especially if the Clippers are Leonard’s second choice, they could try forcing his hand. Of course, Leonard could try convincing the Clippers he’d sign with a cap-space team if they don’t accommodate a sign-and-trade.
The Heat would have to entice L.A. beyond Dragic’s and Iguodala’s contracts with players like Tyler Herro and Precious Achiuwa and/or picks. Duncan Robinson and/or Nunn could get involved in a dual sign-and-trade.
There is a path for Leonard to Miami.
But this all goes back to Leonard and what he wants. He has been famously private throughout his career. He has even more reason to keep his cards close to the vest now.
Even if people have a read into his current offseason plan, the situation can change significantly. How the Clippers fare in the playoffs will leave a major impression ahead of free agency.
Here’s what we know: Leonard chose the Clippers just two years ago.
More than any hints or whispers emerging now, that is the strongest prior when assessing what Leonard will do this summer.