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Kawhi Leonard’s $152M extension with Clippers looks disastrous after latest postseason injury

The Los Angeles Clippers scored a Game 4 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday to even their first-round series 2-2, and they did so without the superstar services of Kawhi Leonard, who missed his second game of this series with knee inflammation. There is no timetable for his return and he remains out indefinitely

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. 

Since Leonard arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 2019 as something of a championship mercenary after what he pulled off in Toronto, he has managed to suit up for just 28 of the Clippers’ 41 playoff games. Throw out 2020 when Leonard played all 13 games of L.A.’s second-round run, and he has been sidelined for multiple games in each of his last three postseasons. 

In 2021, the Clippers looked like a top-shelf title contender before Leonard tore his ACL in Game 4 of the conference semis against Utah, which kept him out for the remainder of those playoffs and for the entirety of the following season. 

Last season, Leonard averaged 35 points through the first two games of the Clippers’ first-round series against Phoenix, then he tore his MCL and missed the next three as L.A. was eliminated in five. 

Who knows if we’ll see him again this postseason, or how long the Clippers can last without him. At this point, you would be a fool to think Leonard can be depended on to make it through a full postseason in good health. And if he can’t do that, the Clippers cannot compete for a title. And if the Clippers cannot compete for a title, it becomes pretty hard to justify the three-year, $152 million extension they handed Leonard this past January. 

Oh yeah, you forgot about that? The Clippers just signed up for three more years of this. They allowed fooled themselves after Leonard managed to stay healthy through the first three months of action. A classic stock-market fool. The guy who thinks whatever is currently happening is just going to keep happening. 

Wrong. 

Leonard getting hurt again was only a matter of time, and it’s only going to get worse over these next three seasons. By the end of this latest contract, Leonard will be 35 years old, and the Clippers will have paid him just shy of $350M over six seasons. 

And if you’re paying all that money to Leonard, then you pretty much have to pay James Harden, who’s a free agent this summer, in addition to George, who’s also a free agent. What’s the alternative? To let them walk for nothing and open up a new arena with a hobbled Leonard and a bunch of C-listers? 

They have no choice but to go all-in, yet again, with the Leonard-George tandem that has now added Harden, because on top of all the actual cash they’ve paid these guys, they also bear the burden of the trade that brought George, who was a package deal with Leonard, to Los Angeles from Oklahoma City, which cost them Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is going to be on the MVP short list for the next decade. 

The Clippers are throwing good money after bad. All the cash they’ve already paid Leonard is a sunk cost. SGA is gone. Giving Leonard another $150M, plus whatever silly money they’re going to throw at Harden and George to keep this pipe dream alive this summer, is not bringing any of that back. 

They should’ve cut their losses and looked to trade Leonard and/or George. Instead, they traded what was left of their future capital for Harden, tripling down on a losing hand. Now they owe their next six first-round draft picks, either straight up or via swaps, to the Thunder for what’s left of the George deal and the 76ers. Once they overpay Harden and give George, who will have heavy competing offers, at least what Leonard got, they’ll be committed with an even worse hand than the one they started with. 

It’s a disaster, and if George has more foresight than the Clippers and thinks to himself: ‘Do I really want to bank the last years of my prime on a co-star that is virtually guaranteed to turn up injured in the playoffs?’, it’s going to get even worse. 

Because unlike Harden, George is going to have options. Nobody is going to pay Harden what the Clippers are almost forced to pay him given how invested they already are, but George could head to the 76ers, for example, who have max space, and leave the Clippers with two over-the-hill superstars making prime-superstar money. 

George has to be considering it, right? This just hasn’t worked with Leonard. They’ve only played 181 of a possible 410 regular-season games together over five years. That’s 44%. Meaning more than half the time George takes the court with the Clippers, Leonard isn’t with him. He’s either been injured or load managing in an effort to avoid injuries, only to get injured in the payoffs anyway. 

I’m going to say it again: This is a disaster for the Clippers. It’s nobody’s fault, necessarily. Leonard can’t help his failing body, and in the summer of 2019, there wasn’t single a team in the NBA that wouldn’t have thrown every organizational egg it had into the Leonard-George basket. But at a certain point, reality has to trump fantasy. 

Leonard suddenly turning up healthy for an entire playoff run, and the Clippers then turning that playoff run into a championship, is a fantasy. Reality is what is happening, and has been happening all along. Leonard is once again in street clothes. The Clippers are clinging to first-round life again. And now they have three more years of this reality to look forward to, at a cool $50M a year. Yikes. 

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