The NBA’s free agency period officially begins Monday at 6 p.m. ET, but speculation of who will sign where got cranked up to full speed on Sunday with the news of two All-Stars declining their respective player options.
Stadium’s Shams Charania reported that Chris Paul declined his $44.2 million player option with the Phoenix Suns for the 2021-22 season and that Kawhi Leonard has opted out of his $36 million player option with the Los Angeles Clippers for next season. The moves make Paul and Leonard unrestricted free agents.
Saying no to that much money, as shocking as it sounds, did not come as a surprise. Both Paul and Leonard are looking to secure new contracts worth more money over multiple years.
Leonard reportedly isn’t going anywhere either, as he and the Clippers are expected to reach a new deal. With Leonard’s status for next season in doubt due to his recent surgery to repair a torn ACL, the Clips are perhaps the only team with the patience to wait for his full recovery thanks to their sizable investment to bring him and Paul George to L.A. two years ago.
Leonard could land a new contract of four years worth $176 million. One of his teammates has already decided to remain a Clipper. On Saturday, Serge Ibaka exercised his $9.7 million player option for 2021-22, according to Charania.
It’s unlikely Paul and Leonard take their talents elsewhere. Paul just helped the Suns reach their first NBA Finals in 28 years, and he could very well lead them there again even with Russell Westbrook's Los Angeles Lakers homecoming. Also, playing for a proven title contender should supersede any interest in reconnecting with people close to him, whether it's in New York (where former agent Leon Rose is Knicks president) or New Orleans (where good friend Willie Green is the Pelicans’ new head coach).
As for Leonard, the Clippers designed their entire blueprint for NBA championship success around him. And by all indications, he has enjoyed playing close to home in Southern California.
But Sunday’s news lit up NBA Twitter anyway with ideas on where the two future Hall of Famers could end up next. It’s why they call it the silly season, and the fun has already begun.