Wait, Why Did Kawhi Just Opt OUT of His Contract?

Today, Chris Haynes was the first to report that Kawhi was going to opt out of the last year of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent:

Shams said the same thing a few minutes later, but then Woj added in that Kawhi is expected to re-sign with the Clippers anyway:

Woj was the only one of the three reporters who said Kawhi was expected to negotiate a new deal to stay with the Clippers. Haynes and Shams didn’t report that.

I’m not saying Woj is wrong, but why didn’t Haynes and Shams also report that Kawhi was expected to re-sign with the Clippers?

Most of NBA Twitter believes Kawhi will be a Clipper for life and eventually reach an agreement on a new extension with them.

But Bobby Marks tweeted something interesting: the smarter move for Kawhi, if it is his intent to work out a long-term extension with the Clippers, would have been to opt in to his contract with them and then sign a long term extension next season:

As Marks said, you need to be with a team for three years to get full Bird rights. Two seasons, which is how long Kawhi has been with the Clippers, only grants him early Bird rights.

This is the chart Marks shared, which shows the difference in how much Kawhi would’ve earned by opting in and signing and extension vs. opting out and signing a new deal:

He’ll make slightly more money over the next four years opting out, but opting in, he’d get that 5th year where he’d be making $50 million. Now, if he signs a new four-year deal with the Clippers, he becomes a free agent after the 2025 season.

Why would he not want to lock in that 5th year and the $50 million salary for it? It’s not like it’s guaranteed he’ll be able to make more money than that in 2025. He’ll be 34 years old after the 2025 season.

It almost feels like Kawhi is going to leave the Clippers. Because otherwise, why would he opt out when opting in would have provided better long-term earnings? Could he be preparing to make a move to, say, Dallas? Or Philly? Or Miami? Or the Knicks? Or even Golden State? Reports are that he will test out free agency and listen to pitches from other teams.

It is possible he’s leaving the Clippers. Kawhi is a tough dude to read. We didn’t think he’d actually leave the Raptors after he won a Championship with them.

I don’t think it’s likely he bolts. I highly doubt he wants to leave Los Angeles, his hometown and where he was trying for so long to get to, after just two seasons. But again, he is willing to listen to other offers. He’s not 100% committed to the Clippers. He is at least open to leaving.

There is a third option for him here: he could sign a one-and-one with the Clippers for this season, opt out in 2022, and then sign the 5-year supermax. That’s a possibility. It would be $235 million over 5 years taking him through his age 36 season.

That, to me, seems like the smartest play for him. It will net him more money both next season and over the following five seasons. It’s how he can maximize his earnings while guaranteeing himself the longest contract.

However, with the expectation that Kawhi will miss, at a minimum, most of the 2022 season and at worst, all of it, it’s not a true guarantee he’ll be able to re-sign with the Clippers on the supermax next summer. The summer of 2022 will see an incredible number of A-level players become free agents. Just look at the list:

Harden, Westbrook, KD, Steph, Beal, Jimmy, Kyrie–those are some huge names. What if James Harden, an LA native, expresses interest in joining the Clippers? The Clippers might say, “Hey, we’d rather give Harden the max and bring him in over Kawhi.” Who knows?

At the very least, Kawhi punting on the contract extension for another year just makes things more complicated for the Clippers. The summer of 2022 is going to be insane in terms of free agents.

Will the Clippers want to continue dealing with Kawhi? There’s just a lot of baggage and headaches that come along with him. Maybe the Clippers will pursue a less high-maintenance superstar.

I don’t know. But Kawhi isn’t making this easy for the Clippers and their fans.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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