Los Angeles Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason if he declines his 2021-22 player option, and there are already rumblings he could leave LA after two years to join Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. It would be a tremendous loss for the Clippers, who would no longer be title contenders if Leonard bolted.
The Mavericks not only hired Hall of Famer Jason Kidd as their new coach, but they also named Nico Harrison — a former executive at Nike — as their new general manager. With the addition of Harrison and Doncic being a superstar in the NBA, the Mavericks could land Leonard and finally sign a big-time player in free agency.
Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic could be a lethal one-two punch
According to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Mavericks are considered by some NBA execs to be the most serious threat to land Leonard if he leaves the Clippers due to Doncic’s presence and the arrival of Harrison. Before the two-time Defensive Player of the Year joined New Balance, Leonard was with Nike and supposedly had a strong rapport with Harrison.
The Clippers defeated the Mavericks in the first round of this year’s playoffs in seven epic games. Both Leonard and Doncic put up spectacular numbers, with the former averaging 32.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists and the latter putting up 35.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 10.3 assists per game.
There are reports out of Dallas that Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis don’t like each other. If the Mavericks want to win a title in the Doncic era, they need to get him a superstar partner in crime, and Leonard certainly fits that bill. Both players are three-level scorers who command double teams when they have the ball in the post. It’s safe to say that Kidd’s first season as head coach would go smoothly if he had Leonard and Doncic leading the way on offense.
However, the Mavericks will have competition for Leonard’s services if he chooses to enter free agency.
Kawhi Leonard could sign with Heat or Knicks; re-signing with Clippers is also a possibility
O’Connor reports that the Miami Heat will join the Mavericks in the Leonard sweepstakes if the two-time champion enters free agency. The New York Knicks will also pursue any superstar that becomes available since they have a plethora of cap space and an aggressive president in Leon Rose, who used to run CAA.
Leonard and Heat swingman Jimmy Butler have a close relationship. The former tried to recruit the latter to the Clippers before Paul George was acquired, so don’t sleep on Kawhi going to South Beach. The Heat can’t create max cap space this offseason, but Pat Riley could work out a sign-and-trade just like he did to acquire Butler in 2019.
Every star likely would love to play with Doncic since he’s young and unselfish. Mark Cuban is a good owner, and Kidd is one of the smartest minds in basketball. Should Leonard decide to end his time on the Clippers, the Mavericks look like an appealing destination for him on paper.
However, several signs point to Leonard staying on the Clippers. In March, he reportedly purchased a $17.1 million home in Pacific Palisades, a coastal neighborhood of Los Angeles. The All-NBA defender also owns a $6.7 million penthouse near Staples Center, and many of his family members live in California.
If Leonard enters free agency, he will likely be the most sought-after player even if he has to undergo surgery on his right knee to address his reported ACL injury. The mystery around the injury, though, continues to be mind-boggling.
Knee injury still filled with mystery
It’s still not publicly known how severe Leonard’s injury is. The Clippers never totally ruled him out of the playoffs, and the future Hall of Famer probably won’t talk to the media again until training camp.
It was a strange situation since several credible reporters reported that Leonard suffered some sort of ACL injury, but the Clippers never acknowledged it.
It would be fascinating if Leonard leaves the Clippers because of mistrust with the training staff, similar to how he left the San Antonio Spurs in 2018. All eyes will certainly be on the California native this offseason to see what he decides to do.
The Mavericks, Heat, and Knicks are hopeful that Leonard declines his player option and opts to take his talents to their franchise.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.