The deal comes after Leonard declined his $36 million contract option to become a free agent.
A five-time All-Star and two-time NBA Finals MVP, Leonard opted to remain in his hometown rather than test the free agent market.
Leonard is coming off a season where he averaged 24.8 points per game on over 51 percent shooting.
But his year was cut short by an ACL injury in the Western Conference semifinals.
Bringing Leonard back into the fold, the Clippers assume the 30-year-old will return to his top-end form.
This move signals a win-now approach for Los Angeles.
Continuing our journey together.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) August 12, 2021
Clippers To Bide Their Time While Leonard Heals
The ACL tear that ended Leonard’s season didn’t seem to be a serious injury at first.
But after being sidelined throughout the Western Conference Finals, Leonard underwent surgery to repair what was reported as a partial ACL tear.
An injury of this magnitude brings with it a lengthy absence from basketball-related activities.
A best-case scenario for Los Angeles sees Leonard return to the floor at some point in the second-half of the 2021-2022 NBA season.
Instead of blowing up the roster and closing their competitive window, the Clippers opted to re-sign the core of last year’s Western Conference Finals team.
Each one of these veterans played pivotal roles for the Clippers throughout the season and in the playoffs.
The team also took a flier on the oft-injured Justise Winslow, who has never fully realized his tantalizing potential coming out of Duke.
Leonard’s contract now aligns with the four-year contract extension Paul George signed with the team.
However, while most will write off the Clippers’ title hopes without Leonard on the floor, there’s compelling evidence that this team could position itself well in his absence.
After Leonard’s injury in the playoffs last season, George seemed to regain some of that All-NBA form he flashed with the Indiana Pacers.
George averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists per game without Leonard.
Jackson also upped his play considerably.
He averaged 21.4 points per game, shooting over 49 percent from the field.
The emergence of Terance Mann provided a boon as well.
Mann averaged 12.8 points per game on 56 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc.
Clippers Bring Back Bledsoe
The Los Angeles Clippers are trading Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu to the Memphis Grizzlies for guard Eric Bledsoe, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 16, 2021
The Clippers made waves over the weekend by trading a trio of talent for a familiar face in Eric Bledsoe.
This move seems money-motivated, considering it saves Los Angeles $30 million in luxury tax and creates an $8.3 million trade exception.
The addition of Bledsoe provides the Clippers with another capable scorer to complement George while Leonard is on the mend.
Bledsoe should have plenty of space to attack the rim, his best skill in the NBA, considering the Clippers space the floor so effectively.
Getting off the contracts of Beverly and Rondo also means the Clippers get younger in the interim.
Although a feisty defender, Beverly’s age (33) limited his upside with this Clippers core.
And though still effective in spurts at 35, Rondo has been in the twilight of his career for some time.
Bledsoe’s age (31) aligns with Leonard (30) and George (31), and he’s a capable offensive threat (14.0 points per game in his career).
Since the ball will be in George’s hands most often, having complementary combo guards like Bledsoe and Jackson should maximize Los Angeles’s offensive efforts while not sacrificing too much on the defensive end.