Kawhi Leonard has decided to return to the LA Clippers, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Terms of the deal are being finalized for Leonard, who declined his player option for $36 million this coming season to become a free agent but was expected to return to the Clippers. His decision to stay comes on the same day that Reggie Jackson agreed to re-sign with the Clippers for a two-year, $22 million deal, his agents, Aaron Mintz and Erika Ruiz, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Also, the Clippers agreed to terms on a two-year deal with forward Justise Winslow, his agents, Austin Brown and Ruiz, told Wojnarowski.
Leonard’s decision to return, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports, comes as the two-time Finals MVP is recovering from surgery on July 13 to repair a partially torn right ACL that kept him out of the Clippers’ final eight playoff games.
Leonard is expected to miss significant time, but the Clippers are thrilled to have Leonard and Jackson back.
“We hope to have a very long-term relationship with him,” Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, said of Leonard after the NBA draft. “… Right now our focus, like Kawhi, is on his health. He had major surgery. He tore his ACL. That’s going to require a great deal of time and we want to support him in that.”
Frank said after the draft that the team wanted to bring back Leonard, Jackson, Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka. All four are set to return. Batum agreed to a two-year deal earlier this week and Ibaka already exercised his contract option to return for a second year.
Despite Leonard’s injury, the star forward was still the biggest free agent although he was expected to return and negotiate a new deal with the Clippers, as Wojnarowski reported on Sunday.
Leonard averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 52 regular-season games during his second campaign with the Clippers. He missed nine out of 10 regular-season games in April because of a foot injury last season.
Prior to Leonard’s knee injury, the Clippers got a glimpse of their potential with Leonard and Paul George playing their best basketball together on the playoff stage. Leonard averaged 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 57.3% in 11 postseason games.
Bringing Jackson back was imperative for the Clippers with Leonard out indefinitely. Jackson will be returning for the maximum that the Clippers can pay Jackson under the CBA rules.
Jackson revived his career this past season, stepping up offensively and hitting clutch shots to help the Clippers reach their first-ever Western Conference finals. After averaging 10.7 points and shooting 43.3% from 3-point range in the regular season, the 10-year veteran emerged as one of the Clippers’ playoff stars.
Winslow joins the Clippers after the forward had his $13 million team option declined by the Memphis Grizzlies on Aug. 1. If healthy, the 6-foot-6 Winslow hopes to help the Clippers try to fill a massive void while Leonard is out.
Winslow played in a total of just 26 games last season and has played in a combined total of 37 games over the past two seasons due to injuries that included a season-ending hip injury he suffered during the NBA restart in the bubble in Orlando last year.