September 27, 2021

Paul, Leonard declining player options to become free agents

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Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul and Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard are declining their player options for the 2021-22 season and becoming unrestricted free agents, according to US reports.

The Athletic and Stadium reported on Sunday that Paul is declining his $44.2m option, with it unclear whether he will remain with last season’s Western Conference champions.

Leonard’s player option was worth $36m, but ESPN reported that he is expected to negotiate a new deal to remain with the Clippers.

Teams can begin negotiating with players on Monday when the NBA free agency period officially begins.

Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul during the second half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Image: Paul helped the Suns reach the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1992-93 season

Paul, 36, helped the Suns reach the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1992-93 season after averaging 16.4 points and 8.9 assists in 70 games this past campaign. He was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 2022 first-round draft pick.

The 11-time All-Star has played on three different teams in as many seasons, so the prospect of moving on is not unfamiliar to him. Paul’s family, in fact, continues to make Los Angeles its primary home.

Paul has averaged 18.3 points and 9.4 assists in 1,090 career games since being selected by the then-New Orleans Hornets with the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. He also has played for the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Although Leonard is expected to re-sign with the Clippers, he is not precluded from the possibility of testing the open market once again.

Kawhi Leonard (AP)
Image: Leonard underwent surgery on a partially torn ACL in his right knee in July

Leonard, 30, joined the Clippers two years ago following a high-stakes free agency period that saw multiple teams courting him.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP (2014, 2019) and two-time Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2016) is a Southern California native who chose the Clippers in 2019 over the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors.

In two seasons with Los Angeles and Paul George at his side, the Clippers reached the Western Conference semi-finals but no further. The Clippers lost to the Phoenix Suns in the conference semis in 2021, with Leonard sidelined for the entire series with a knee injury.

Leonard underwent surgery on a partially torn ACL in his right knee on July 13.

In 52 regular-season games in 2020-21, Leonard averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per contest. He was named to the All-NBA First Team for the third time in his career.