One of the reasons for the delay in Kawhi Leonard’s signing was revealed today, when Shams Charania of the Athletic broke the news that Kawhi Leonard was still signing with the Clippers, but for a “two plus one” deal rather than the full four years that had originally been reported. Essentially, Kawhi will be a Clipper for the next two years, and will then have a player option — so both he and Paul George, if they want, could leave in two years, in the summer of 2021. Kawhi’s deal will be for around $103 million, per Shams.
This new deal makes sense for Kawhi, as long as he’s confident in his leg holding up the next couple years (which is a legitimately big deal). Two years from now, he will be eligible for his 10 year max, which is a significant increase in salary from his current contract (35% of cap compared to 30%, and with 8% annual raises instead of 5%), and it is absolutely reasonable that he’d want to make money on that rate if he’s worthy of a max contract then. This update does not mean he’s bolting the Clippers in two years.
However, the pressure is now on the Clippers to win at least one championship in the next two years, with this upcoming year being the most important. It’s possible that Kawhi and Paul George will be content staying with the Clippers longer than that as long as the teams are competitive and they’re happy with their playing situation and life in general, but if some typical Clippers stuff starts to happen... well, both could be gone, with a whole host of picks still owed by the Clippers for George. In other words, if the Clippers don’t win a championship in the next two years, or make an extremely convincing argument to both Kawhi and George to stay, they could be in deep trouble for the next half decade.
There’s every possibility Kawhi and PG are Clippers for a long, long time. But the Clippers will need to be really, really good this upcoming season (they should be), and a championship could be a must to keep Leonard and George around. It’s impossible to know what Kawhi and PG are thinking (there’s at least a slim chance they are dead set on being Clippers for life, and just want their extra money in two years), but aligning themselves to be in free agency in 2021 means the clock starts ticking right now. Buckle up, everyone.