The Mavericks and Heat plan to make a “hard push” to add Clippers star Kawhi Leonard this summer and other teams will be in the mix as well, sources tell Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. Leonard holds a player option for next season and is expected to bypass a $36MM salary to become a free agent.
Some executives consider Dallas to be in the best position to land Leonard because of the chance to play alongside Luka Doncic and the ability of the front office to create cap room or work out a sign-and-trade arrangement. Leonard has spent several years with Nike and has a strong relationship with longtime executive Nico Harrison, who was recently hired as the Mavericks’ general manager.
O’Connor notes that Leonard tried to talk Jimmy Butler into joining him with the Clippers two years ago before the team traded for Paul George. Butler opted for Miami, and O’Connor suggests that Leonard might have an interest in forming a partnership there. The Heat don’t have a realistic path for creating enough cap space to add Leonard in free agency and would have to rely on a sign-and-trade.
The Knicks do have plenty of cap room and will be in the market for any available star, O’Connor adds, and virtually any team would try to work out the details if Leonard shows an interest in joining them.
Even so, O’Connor states that there are plenty of indications Leonard will re-sign with the Clippers. He’s originally from Los Angeles and purchased a $17.1MM home in the area in March.
O’Connor foresees a lot of roster changes this summer, whether Leonard returns or not. Serge Ibaka has a $9.7MM player option, and Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum are both headed for unrestricted free agency. Keeping Jackson has become a priority after his stellar postseason, but the demand for him will be high and he could move beyond the Clippers’ price range.
L.A. is already in luxury tax territory, O’Connor notes, and adding more salary would be expensive. The team’s only path for signing a player will be the $5.9MM taxpayer midlevel exception. The Clippers have the No. 25 pick to offer in trade talks, but don’t own another first-rounder until 2027. They may try to move Luke Kennard, who has a four-year, $64MM extension that starts next season.