Kawhi Leonard is expected to decline his $36 million contract option and become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. While Leonard could still return to the Los Angeles Clippers, there is the possibility he could leave after two seasons with the franchise that didn't live up to expectations. He'll almost certainly explore his options, even if it's just behind the scenes.
One thing to remember is that Leonard will be recovering from a torn ACL suffered during the playoffs. He has no timetable set for his return. The 30-year-old is a two-time champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, a five-time All-Star, a five-time All-NBA pick and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. When healthy and at the top of his game, Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA.
Here's a look at four potential landing spots for Leonard now that he's set to hit free agency.
Kawhi Leonard Free Agency Rumors
Los Angeles Clippers
This is the most-likely scenario. The Clippers can re-sign Leonard to another two-year max contract with two additional options then wait while he recovers, hopefully keep themselves in a good position, then make a run at a title in 2022 if he comes back healthy. Leonard forced his way to LA in 2019, pushing the Clippers to trade a tremendous number of assets to acquire Paul George, so it would be pretty insane if he left town after only two seasons. If that happened, it would be an absolute disaster for the Clippers.
The expectation is Leonard will negotiate a new deal to stay in LA. But, quite frankly, with Kawhi, nothing is ever certain. He could change his mind tomorrow and no one would find it shocking.
New York Knicks
There's no doubt the Knicks will at least reach out to Leonard in an attempt to lure him to the Big Apple. New York had a great season, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference at 41-31, but their luck ran out during a first-round playoff exit. Still, a young, emerging team with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, led by Tom Thibodeau and with a ton of cap space fill, could be appealing to Leonard.
Grinding it out in the loaded Western Conference hasn't worked out for Kawhi and the Clippers the last two seasons. Moving back to the East would make his path to another NBA title much easier.
You can bet the Mavericks are going to do whatever they can to bring Leonard back to Texas. Kawhi began his career with the San Antonio Spurs and is familiar with the lifestyle in the Lone Star State. A combination of Leonard and Luka Doncic could be lethal and create a new power in the Western Conference. With Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.J. Redick off-the-books, and Josh Richardson traded the Boston Celtics, Dallas has cap space to play with.
The Mavericks don't quite have enough for a max contract slot but could make the moves to facilitate one if they get creative. They could also attempt to move off of Kristaps Porzingis' massive contract though that would be incredibly difficult. Still, if Leonard wants to be in Dallas, the team could find a way to make room for him.
The Heat know how to land big-time talent and have proven it over and over again. Pat Riley is a master at luring big-name players and Miami has a roster ready to win now. Jimmy Butler and Leonard are buddies and, along with Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, the Heat have an attractive group to run with.
Miami's cap situation is pretty tight, but that's never stopped the franchise before. The Heat are among the NBA's best at working the league's salary constraints and finding ways to fit star players on the roster. Like with the Mavericks, if Leonard wants this to happen, Miami will find a way.