Kawhi Leonard is likely to opt out of contract if healthy

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With Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, LeBron James and Anthony Davis all agreeing to contract extensions in recent weeks, the NBA’s once star-studded free agent class of 2021 has lost some of its biggest names. But not all of them.

Just as in 2019, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard could become the star attraction whose decision the NBA revolves around next summer. Leonard can decline his player option for the 2021-22 season and hit free agency, a decision he said Monday could hinge on his health this season.

“Just for my situation right now, I’m just focused on this season,” Leonard said before practice Monday, the day before the Clippers’ season opener against the Lakers. “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. I’m focused on the season, like I said. We’ll talk about that when the time is right.”

Leonard signed a three-year deal worth $103 million after joining the Clippers as a free agent in 2019, with the final year a player option. Since he has dealt with injuries throughout his career, exercising the option would allow a measure of short-term stability to the tune of $36 million guaranteed next season.

Declining the player option has long been seen as a probable route for Leonard to take because timing could allow him to cash in for the most lucrative contract of his career. This season will mark Leonard’s 10th in the NBA; a player that has completed 10 seasons is eligible to be paid the maximum 35% of a team’s salary cap.

Clippers forward Paul George, whose trade to the Clippers helped land Leonard’s free-agency commitment, could have become a free agent after this season, as well, but instead locked in a four-year extension worth $190 million. George said he had kept Leonard — who is not currently eligible to sign an extension — informed about his decision and is “hopeful” the two will play together long term.

“Hopefully it’s a mutual bond and we both enjoy playing with one another,” George said earlier this month. “Everybody’s got their own decisions to make and hopefully me showing my commitment, being here and wanting to play with him long term sticks out.”

Leonard said he appreciated George’s communication about wanting to stay with the Clippers. Both are Southern California natives.

“I spoke to Paul, he felt comfortable here,” Leonard said. “He loves the city, he’s obviously from here, so I think from his standpoint, he did a great job of coming to me and telling me how he feels before signing the contract.”

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