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Kawhi Leonard signs four-year contract with Clippers

Kawhi Leonard waits for player introductions before a game.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kawhi Leonard is returning to the Clippers on a four-year maximum contract, tying himself to the franchise long term.

Leonard, an unrestricted free agent, agreed to return to the team last week while still working out the terms of his contract. A person with knowledge of the contract said Thursday that the fourth year is a player option; he will earn $176 million over the length of the deal.

The final season runs through 2024-25, the same season the Clippers hope to open their proposed arena in Inglewood that carries a privately financed budget of $1.8 billion. Leonard’s deal also is equal in length to that of teammate Paul George, potentially keeping the All-Star duo together for years. By choosing this contract structure, Leonard will earn the maximum allowed under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. But he still didn’t take options that would have secured him more money.

Had he exercised his $36 million player option for next season, he could have then added a four-year extension worth around $187 million. Had he declined his player option and re-signed on a two-year contract with another player option, he could have re-signed a five-year contract next summer, worth $235 million.

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Leonard is currently recovering from a partially torn ACL in his right knee, an injury that could sideline him for much, if not all, of next season. In Leonard and George’s first two seasons together, the team advanced to the postseason’s second round and the Western Conference finals, but is still seeking its first NBA Finals appearance.

In a prepared news release announcing the signing, Lawrence Frank, Clippers president of basketball operations, called Leonard a “transcendent player and a relentless worker.”

“We share many of the same goals, which include a long-term relationship,” Frank said. “This agreement marks another important moment for our franchise and our fans, as we strive to create a championship-caliber organization, where players find the success and fulfillment they seek. We’re eager to continue building with Kawhi. For now, we will do whatever we can to support him in his recovery from injury. We look forward to seeing him back where he wants to be, on the court with his teammates.”

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