Stephen A. Smith Envisions Kawhi Leonard Joining an Eastern Conference Title Contender Over the Lakers

As the Los Angeles Clippers move through the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard‘s future has become a prominent topic of discussion. The star forward will likely head into the market, eyeing another short-term contract, likely with the Clippers. However, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith is starting to believe another NBA team not named the Los Angeles Lakers could vie for his services.

Kawhi Leonard’s future with the Clippers

In July 2019, Leonard chose to sign a three-year, $103.1 million max deal to join the Clippers.

His first two seasons with Los Angeles saw the franchise quickly become one of the top teams in the league. Leonard engrained himself as a centerpiece alongside Paul George, placing a bright future ahead.

However, his recent injury struggles in the playoffs have brought forth lingering questions concerning his upcoming contract situation. Leonard holds a roughly $36 million player option for the 2021-22 season, which he will likely decline in favor of another short-term deal.

With the pivotal contract decision ahead, Stephen A. Smith pinpointed where he thinks Leonard could choose to sign, and it’s not the Lakers.

Stephen A. Smith envisions Kawhi Leonard joining an eastern conference title contender over the Lakers

Before the Clippers head into the offseason, the conversation concerning Leonard‘s future has become a prominent discussion.

ESPN’S Stephen A. Smith recently voiced he believes it may be in the Clippers’ best interest to move off Leonard due to his persistent health issues.

With that in mind, Smith also stated he sees the star forward deciding to join the Miami Heat before considering signing with the Lakers.

“I would see him going someplace like Miami before I saw that happening,” Smith said via Heat Nation. “Obviously, he would want his money, and I don’t know how much money the Lakers have to give him. That’s number one.

“But again, when you look at Kawhi Leonard, there’s no questioning his greatness, there’s no questioning his talent, and if you’re going for a championship, he’s your guy. But if you’re talking about building long term and building a culture, I don’t know if he’s proven to be that guy because of his durability issues. It’s just that simple to me.”

It’s no secret the Heat are looking to add another star talent to the mix alongside Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and the rest of the roster. Leonard certainly fits that billing, which may lead to team president Pat Riley making a compelling case to lure him to Miami.

The allure of the Lakers will always be there, but if the 30-year-old wanted to join the franchise, he would have done so two offseasons ago in free agency. The question now becomes whether Leonard wants to uproot himself from the Clippers after thoroughly navigating to the team.

Only time will tell if the two-time NBA Finals MVP wants to extend his tenure with the Clippers.

Clippers’ future remains tied to star talent

As the Clippers work through an NBA title bid, it’s hard to not look beyond the deep playoff run regardless of how it unfolds.

Leonard is a significant part of the roster foundation and a huge reason for the team’s continued success. Although he’s missed the last seven games due to a knee injury, he’s helped the Clippers becoming a legitimate title contender.

It’s hard to envision the Clippers choosing to move off Leonard even with his injury struggles this season. When healthy, he’s one of the best players in the league, and a bonafide star that can lead a franchise to an NBA title. Los Angeles holds the benefit of possessing a deep roster around him that’s stepped up in his absence.

Paul George has completely shed the past postseason mockery behind his impressive performance in the playoffs. George is averaging 27.2 points on 44.3% shooting through his first 18 playoff games. Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson has become a tremendously reliable postseason performer. He’s averaging 18.1 points on 49.2% shooting from the floor and 41.5% from 3-point range.

Beyond all that, the Clippers have the pieces to build a team that can contend for years to come and Leonard is part of that organizational game plan.

Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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