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Report: The Clippers Remain The Most Desperate Suitor In The Kawhi Leonard Sweepstakes

Photo: Gregory Shamus (Getty)

In keeping with his longstanding policy of having absolutely nothing interesting to say about anything, ever, Kawhi Leonard has offered very little indication of where he might prefer to sign his next long-term contract, following the conclusion of these playoffs. There’s been talk of Kawhi preferring to play in Los Angeles, but after the success he’s enjoyed with the Raptors and absent anything more concrete than a thoroughly distributed rumor, no one who hasn’t heard it directly from Kawhi’s mouth has more than a vague hunch where he’ll wind up next season.

With the CBA imposing a strict limit on salaries and Kawhi no longer being eligible for the dreaded supermax, various pursuers will have to base their courtships on other factors—things like prominent teammates and coaches, or recent playoff success, or future potential, or endorsement opportunities, or the number of palm trees in the surrounding area. A minor part of Toronto’s pitch, for example, will be the presence of Kawhi’s “close friend” Jeremy Castleberry on their coaching staff, after they hired Castleberry away from the Spurs back in August following the blockbuster trade that brought Leonard to town.

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The Clippers, who should have two max salary slots available this summer, are similarly working every angle to position themselves for a persuasive pitch meeting with Kawhi and his people once free agency kicks off in July. According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, that effort recently included exploring the possibility of a sleazy, likely prohibited, and outrageously expensive non-contract transaction whereby they’d facilitate the transfer of Kawhi’s “Klaw” logo into his personal control by buying it away from Nike:

The Los Angeles Clippers are said to have quietly looked into the feasibility of purchasing the portion of the rights to Leonard’s “Klaw” logo that is still owned by Nike. The Clippers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but such an acquisition would theoretically enable them to bestow full control of the logo upon Leonard as part of their anticipated free-agency pitch meeting with the Toronto superstar.

This will not happen. First of all the NBA would probably never allow it, since its monetary value would be in the tens of millions of dollars and would by any credible definition constitute compensation in excess of the maximum salary. Second of all, per Stein’s report, Nike “is intent on rebuffing all approaches and retaining its rights to that logo for as long as it can,” now that Kawhi has defected to a competing apparel company. But it’s enjoyable as an indicator of how desperate the Clippers are to score Kawhi in free agency this summer, that they’d consider paying a fortune to an apparel company for the rights to a logo and then dangling those rights for the privilege of paying Kawhi $200 million in long-term salary. The total value wouldn’t be more than Kawhi is worth, not by a long shot, but it would certainly be far more than he is allowed to make under the NBA’s current salary structure.

All along the Clippers have been the thirstiest team in the chase for Kawhi. They fired color commentator and former Spur Bruce Bowen after he made some lightly critical comments about Kawhi’s handling of his final season in San Antonio; they hired Lee Jenkins away from Sports Illustrated for the purpose of having a prominent journalist around to punch up their recruiting pitch; and they were at one point reportedly sending executives and team officials to as many as 75 percent of Raptors games, including games where Kawhi never so much as touched the floor. They’ve done everything shy of slipping a mix-tape into Kawhi’s locker and then driving past his home several times a night with it blaring out their speakers. Moving heaven and earth to own a part of his public image would frankly be par for the course.

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There’s a very good chance that the Kawhi chase is going to be an incredible feature of this summer, is what I’m saying. The Clippers may be setting themselves up for utter heartbreak and devastation.

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