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Clippers thwart Sixers, sign Kawhi Leonard to three-year extension

One of the Sixers’ top possible free-agent targets is already off the board, as the Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard to an extension on Wednesday.

Philadelphia 76ers v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sixers can carve out more than enough cap space to offer a max contract to an external free agent this summer, which puts them in a unique position for a championship contender. However, one of their top potential targets came off the board Wednesday, as the Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard to a three-year, $152.4 million contract extension, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Leonard will receive $52 million in the first year of his extension and “approximately $50 million per season over the next two years.” The deal also does not include a player option, which means Leonard is now under contract with the Clippers through 2026-27. The structure of the deal is also notable, as it’s less than Leonard was eligible to receive both in terms of years and annual salary.

Based on the current $142 million projection for the 2024-25 salary cap, Leonard was eligible to sign a three-year, $161 million extension or a four-year deal worth $222.7 million. If the cap goes up by more than projected—it can rise by as much as 10 percent each year—Leonard could have earned even more than that. Either way, it’s clearly less than his max.

According to Wojnarowski, the Clippers aren’t done yet. They’re also having “ongoing extension talks” with Paul George, who has a $48.7 million player option for next season. The Clippers “want to have both of their stars lined up on longer-term contracts,” according to Woj. Given how well they’ve been playing as of late, they’ll presumably try to re-sign James Harden once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, too.

Leonard’s new deal is mostly bad news for the Sixers, particularly if it convinces George to sign an extension rather than test free agency. Although neither star appeared particularly likely to leave L.A., the threat of them doing so gave the Sixers some high-upside options this summer. With Leonard now off the market and George perhaps soon to follow, Harden, Pascal Siakam and DeMar DeRozan are among the top players set to hit free agency.

Depending on how you feel about Siakam—please mark me down in the “hard no” category—that’s a relatively uninspiring list. The Sixers could always eschew free agency and instead facilitate an unbalanced trade in terms of salary, but there’s no guarantee that their ability to create a mountain of cap space will be a panacea for them either way.

That might influence how the Sixers approach the trade deadline.

On Wednesday, Wojnarowski said on Threads that Sixers president Daryl Morey is “always big-game hunting,” but he thought the Sixers were more likely to make “some upgrades on the margins” rather than a huge splash at this year’s deadline. “Philly is in great position in the offseason to make some more dramatic upgrades, because of their impending salary cap space, some valuable draft picks and a lineup with [Joel] Embiid and [Tyrese] Maxey that good players would certainly love to join,” he added.

If it appears increasingly unlikely that dramatic upgrades will be available this offseason, perhaps that will spurn the Sixers into action sooner. If they can’t get a third star ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline, they might decide to double down on the two-stars-and-depth model and swing for non-stars who would complement Embiid and Maxey (guys like Dejounte Murray, Bojan Bogdanovic, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Dorian Finney-Smith, etc.).

There is one silver lining to Leonard’s extension from a Sixers perspective, though. As part of the Harden trade, they received the Clippers’ fully unprotected 2028 first-round pick, and they have the right to swap 2029 first-round picks with the Clippers so long as the Clippers’ pick doesn’t land in the top three. Leonard’s new extension only runs through 2026-27, and the Clippers will likely try to sign George and Harden to deals of the same length to ensure all three expire the same year.

If all three of Leonard, Harden and George are still on the Clippers by 2026-27, the Clippers will be building around three oft-injured players in their mid-30s and might not have a ton of young depth behind them. Regardless of how these next few seasons unfold, the Clippers still have major long-term disaster potential, which should give that 2028 unprotected pick a ton of value in trade talks.

Otherwise, though, there’s no way to spin losing a shot at Leonard as a positive for the Sixers. And if this leads to George also signing an extension, the Sixers’ dreams of landing a third star in free agency already might be on life support.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM.

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