NBA

Kawhi Leonard agrees to four-year deal with Clippers

By Sports Desk August 12, 2021

Kawhi Leonard has committed his future to the Los Angeles Clippers by agreeing a four-year contract that includes a player option, according to reports.

Leonard had declined a $36million option to enter free agency after the NBA postseason, though it was expected he would opt to return to the Clippers.

The five-time NBA All-Star suffered a serious knee injury during the playoffs, going down during the Western Conference finals. Without him, Los Angeles went on to lose the series 4-2 to the Phoenix Suns.

Having undergone surgery to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, it is unclear exactly when Leonard will be ready to get back on the court. It has been reported he will miss an extended amount of the 2021-22 season as he works his way back to full fitness.

However, the Clippers at least know they have him locked up for the long term. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Twitter that the deal is worth $176.3m with an option for the fourth and final year.

Leonard has averaged 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists since joining the Clippers in 2019, arriving at the franchise after an impressive title-winning campaign with the Toronto Raptors.

The 30-year-old opted to join forces with Paul George at the Clippers, with their two seasons together seeing the team finish second and then fourth in the West.

They went 36-16 when Leonard was active in the 2020-21 regular season, outscoring their opponents by 9.0 points per outing. In the 20 games he missed, however, their record was 11-9 and they were outscored by 1.1 points on average.

In the playoffs, L.A. have lost in the Conference semi-finals and Conference finals respectively in the past two seasons.

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    The Los Angeles Lakers' decision to give LeBron James a two-year contract extension worth $97.1million is as much about the player's brand as his ability, says sport finance expert Dan Plumley.

    James had been entering the final year of a contract worth $44.5m. His new deal includes a player option for the 2024-25 season.

    The extension takes the 37-year-old to $532m in guaranteed career earnings, which would mean he is the highest-paid player in the history of the league.

    Despite his increasing years, James is still one of the top performers in the NBA, averaging 30.3 points per game in the 2021-22 season.

    Speaking to Stats Perform, Plumley admitted he is surprised by the short-term nature of the deal not usually seen in US sports, but understands the brand of the athlete is often as important as the ability.

    "I think that's now more the case than ever in every professional sport," said Plumley, who is principal lecturer in sport finance at Sheffield Hallam University. "Every team's looking at how they can use their superstars across respective sports.

    "Of course, it's about first and foremost what they can do on the court, on the pitch, it's absolutely still about that.

    "But the other side of it is what do they bring from a commercial side of things and what's the brand association, and what's the fit like, and how can the club or team leverage some of that against the superstars that they've got?

    "It's absolutely the case with LeBron James. Of course it is. But I think it's the case across the board now for a lot of professional teams."

    With James approaching 40 by the end of the two-year deal and with a history of injuries, there appears to be significant risk in the investment for the Lakers, but Plumley thinks it will be worth taking if it produces a championship or two.

    "I think that there's the risk... but there was also the risk of losing him and losing the asset and losing the brand association and the value that somebody like LeBron James brings with the Lakers and everything else he's got going on in his personal life as well," he said.

    "We know he's connected to Liverpool [Football Club, minority ownership] and the wider network that he operates in. So there's that at play where you're balancing the risk.

    "From the playing side of things, yes, the injury risk is there but I think the Lakers felt that it was enough to get the next two years where they could potentially win something again with LeBron, and that risk was far lower than losing him. I think that's where they've ended up at.

    "With the NBA, we know that careers can go a little bit later versus other sports. I think when you balance that off, the Lakers have obviously arrived at the decision that it's better to keep him now for a couple of years than potentially lose him."

    In terms of the wider future of the NBA, Plumley understands there is danger in seeing deals increase in size, but believes basketball and other US sports will be safe from significant damage due to their closed nature and draft system.

    "I think there's always the danger that you see figures like this, and we know that the salary cap is there, and there will always be a limit on this," Plumley added.

    "But we've seen increases in the salary cap over time, which is not unusual when you think about the amount of money coming in. So if there's more money coming in, then there's an argument to raise the salary cap.

     

    "I think what teams will always be suggesting and the way that side of things has gone is that there's an expectation that they need to keep raising the salary cap. And that's always okay if you've got the money coming in to support it, so I think that will be the trade-off.

    "It's always a risk in any professional team sport. They are reliant on broadcasters and they're reliant on commercial partners to generate that revenue at the league level. And while that's okay and growing, these little increases in salary caps have been okay.

    "The question always is 'where's the benchmark?' And if the benchmark has gone higher, because this is the biggest contract we've ever seen, then others will start to look towards that as the new benchmark. And I think that's just the risk in the background that you run.

    "American sports are a little bit more protected in that sense, because of the nature of their league systems."

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    Forward Xander Bowers was named man-of-the-match after leading the way for the Waves with 21 points, four steals, three assists and three blocks. Gemaal Davis also contributed 20 points for the winners.

    “Just playing at our pace,” was Bowers’ response when asked what the key to victory was for his team.

    “Our coach has been preaching playing at our pace, staying patient and taking care of the ball,” he added.

    When asked about his own performance, he felt he could’ve been even better.

    “I thought I did okay. I could’ve been a little more aggressive in the second and third quarters. I feel like I started off well and I ended well.”

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    “We have the confidence and we know we can beat them now. The key is going to be playing at our pace and being able to take care of the ball and get good shots,” he said.

    The second game of the day was a preview of Saturday’s championship game between the unbeaten Horizon and Elite 1 Storm.

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    Forward Anton Ivey was man-of-the-match with 23 points and eight rebounds while guard Bobby Gray also chipped in with 19 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.

    Ivey credited his team’s defense as the catalyst for this statement-making win.

    “Our gameplan was defense and we picked it up in the second half,” he said.

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    A ceremony will take place on March 7, 2023 when the Lakers host the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Gasol played for the Lakers between 2008 and 2014, having arrived from Memphis, appearing in three NBA Finals and winning two championships alongside Kobe Bryant.

    Three of his six All-Star appearances came during his time in Los Angeles, before he left for the Chicago Bulls in 2014.

    After time with the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks, Gasol returned to Europe for a second spell with Barcelona, where his career had begun, before retiring in October last year at the age of 41.

    Following the announcement, Gasol took to Twitter to thank his former franchise, writing: "Beyond thankful and honoured!!!"

    Gasol had an average of 17.7 points per game during his time with the Lakers, as well 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 blocks in 429 appearances.

    He will join a number of legends, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant and Magic Johnson, in having his jersey retired by the Lakers.

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