- Kawhi Leonard has declined his $36 million USD player option to play with the LA Clippers next season.
- Chris Paul has declined his $44 million USD player option with the Phoenix Suns.
- Both players will become unrestricted free agents but are expected to re-sign with their current teams.
Two of the biggest stars in the NBA will become free agents at 12 midnight EDT/9 PM PDT on Sunday. While they’re in a position to test the market the expectation is that they’re not going anywhere. The LA Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and the Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul have declined player options on their contracts for next year and will become free agents. The prevailing wisdom, however, is that they made the move simply to maximize their earning potential with their current teams. Teams can begin negotiating with players at 6 PM EDT/3 PM PDT on Monday and a deal for each player could come together quickly after that.
A deal between the Phoenix Suns and point guard Chris Paul will likely happen first. The Suns have been in ‘rebuilding mode’ for several years but the acquisition of Paul before the 2020-2021 season appears to have been the final ‘piece in the puzzle’. Phoenix finished the season with the second best record in the Western Conference and the league and dispatched the Lakers, Nuggets and Clippers to reach the NBA Finals before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in 6 games. Before this season, the Suns had not reached the Western Conference Finals since 2009-2010 and hadn’t reached the NBA Finals since 1992-1993 behind the effort of NBA MVP Charles Barkley.
Likewise, Paul reached another level of career success with his new team. The 11 time NBA All Star had played for four other franchises during his career without much in the way of playoff success. In Phoenix, he assumed a new role as a team leader and facilitator for the Suns’ other talented scorers, particularly shooting guard Devin Booker. In 2020-2021, Paul averaged 16.4 PPG, 8.9 assists per game and 1.4 steals per game.
His comments following the Suns’ elimination suggest that he’s looking forward to coming back to Phoenix to help the team reach the next level:
“I think for me, I just look at myself and figure out how can I get better, what I could have done more, and make sure I come back next season ready to do it again.”
The situation with Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers is only slightly more complicated. The primary issue is that Leonard is coming off of surgery in early July to repair a partially torn right ACL. The injury kept him out of the Clippers’ final playoff eight playoff games and he’s expected to miss significant playing time as he rehabs his injury. Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank is mindful of that though clearly hopeful that a deal can be reached to keep him in LA:
“We hope to have a very long-term relationship with him… Right now our focus, like Kawhi, is on his health. He had major surgery. He tore his ACL. That’s going to require a great deal of time and we want to support him in that.”
The two most likely options would see Leonard signing a four year deal worth $176.2 million USD or signing a one year contract that would allow him to revisit the free agent market in 2022. In that case, he could sign a five year deal with the Clippers worth $235 million. For their part–and with that much money on the table–the Clippers would want some assurances about Leonard’s longterm health.
During the season, Leonard indicated that declining the player option was a likely move in order to maximize his upside earning potential:
“Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option. But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying.”
In his second year with the Clippers, Leonard averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists while playing in 52 regular season games.