14 Jan

Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard says he signed contract extension expecting Paul George, James Harden to stay

Kawhi Leonard signed a three-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. It will pay him the max (approximately $52 million) in 2024-25, then a flat $50 million per season in 2025-26 and 2026-27, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Given that Leonard was eligible for a four-year extension worth up to an estimated $223 million, this represents something of a sacrifice for one of the best players on the planet.

Hours after the Clippers announced the deal, following their 126-120 victory over the Toronto Raptors, Leonard said he signed it with the expectation that his co-stars would stick around. Paul George is eligible for an extension right now, and James Harden will be a free agent at the end of the season.

“With the conversation that I have with them about it, I think for the most part everybody is coming back,” Leonard told reporters. “So, with me signing the extension, I think it gives us a chance to sign both of those players.”

George and Clippers president Lawrence Frank both confirmed that they’re in talks.

“We’re working through it,” George told reporters.

“We talk with Paul daily, talk with his representative, Aaron Mintz,” Frank told reporters. “We want Paul to be a Clipper and we’re hopeful.”

The Clippers have won 21 of their last 27 games and are fourth in the Western Conference, two games behind the first-place Minnesota Timberwolves. Leonard has missed only four games this season, George only two, and, after a bumpy first week or so, Harden has given them exactly what they hoped when they acquired him in November. Until the Leonard deal, though, they were only really all-in on this season. It’s going to be extremely expensive to keep their stars aligned with new contracts, but this signals how far they’re willing to go.

That’s not to say that George is definitely on the verge of signing an identical extension, nor that Harden’s next deal will run through 2026-27 — all of that must be negotiated. Leonard is the Clippers’ best player, though, and George said he’s “extremely happy for Kawhi” and wants to stay a Clipper.

“Absolutely,” George told reporters. “You secure and lock in Kawhi, it definitely leaves the door open for myself,” George said. “Very, very optimistic that something will get done on my behalf as well.”

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A cautionary tale: In August of 2021, with Kevin Durant signed to a four-year extension, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks said he was “very confident” that Harden and Kyrie Irving would be “signed, sealed, delivered” in short order. The Nets’ stars had wanted to team up, just like the Clippers’ stars, but neither Harden nor Irving ended up signing those extensions and, a year and a half later, all three of them had been traded.

This is unlikely to play out the same way. (Had Irving simply gotten vaccinated and made himself eligible to play in all of the Nets’ games that season, this story would have played out differently.) Since Harden isn’t eligible for an extension, though, the Clippers can’t quite shore up their (near) future until the end of this season.

That said, keeping Leonard for less than the max is a nice first step.

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