Clippers want to keep Paul George, James Harden with Kawhi Leonard

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Monday, May 6, 2024

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The LA Clippers hope to enter their new home, the Intuit Dome, next season with Paul George and James Harden.

Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, said the Clippers hope to retain both stars to continue playing alongside Kawhi Leonard.

George has a player option on the $48.8 million due next season and can become a free agent if he and the Clippers are unable to come to an agreement on an extension before June 30. Harden will be an unrestricted free agent. The point guard could wait to see what happens with George first before figuring out his future with the Clippers.

"We'd like to be able to bring back and retain Paul and James," Frank said Monday. "We're hopeful we can, but also understand and respect the fact that they're free agents. Paul has a decision with his option. James will be an unrestricted free agent, so our intent is to bring him back, but also realize that they're elite players and they'll have choices."

George is eligible to sign up to a four-year, $221 million extension through June 30. The Clippers can still offer George up to that much if he becomes a free agent. Other potential suitors can offer a max that is $9 million less than what the Clippers can offer.

After the Clippers signed Leonard to a three-year, $150-million extension in early January, George said he remained optimistic that he and the Clippers could come to an agreement on an extension. But Frank said the two sides decided to table talks around the All-Star break.

After LA's 114-101 loss in Game 6 at Dallas, George was asked whether he sees himself with the Clippers long term with Leonard and Harden.

"Yeah," George said. "If it works that way, absolutely."

With the Clippers likely to become a second apron team, it will be difficult for them to upgrade the squad. Frank talked about trying to add more complementary pieces around his stars. Leonard is 32, and George and Harden are 34.

George played 74 regular-season games this season, the most he has played by far in his five seasons with the Clippers. The All-Star averaged 22.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and a career-high 41.3% from 3 this season.

George, who averaged 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the first-round series against Dallas, helped the Clippers reach their first Western Conference finals in 2021.

"We want Paul, we value Paul," Frank said. "Paul's done some tremendous things here. He's an elite player, and our biggest thing is we always want to be able to treat players well and pay them fairly, and we also have to build out a team, especially, this is a new CBA. But in terms of the exact money, I would never go into details other than we've had really, really good conversations over the course of the year and hopeful that we can get him to remain a Clipper."

After coming to the Clippers via trade a week into the season, Harden helped orchestrate the best regular-season stretch of the Leonard-George era. The Clippers went 26-5 during a stretch between December and early February to stand atop the Western Conference standings for a day at 34-15.

The team finished with 51 wins and fourth in the West, but it sputtered to a 17-16 finish amid injuries and a lull in play. Leonard missed the final eight regular-season games and Game 1 of the first round with inflammation in his surgically repaired right knee. Although Leonard played in Games 2 and 3, he looked limited and his knee didn't respond the way he had hoped. The team held Leonard out for the remainder of the series.

Frank said Leonard would not have been available to play as of now had the Clippers advanced.

Leonard played in 68 games, the most he has played in a regular season since 2016-17. Frank said the team will have to assess how to best manage Leonard's right knee, which has undergone surgeries for a torn ACL and torn meniscus since 2021.

"We're still dealing with the inflammation," Frank said. "The encouraging thing is this seems big picture minor in nature in that it's not a structural thing. The reality is that we're going to continue to try to learn and how to manage his right knee. He's had two surgeries on his knee, but he's shown that he can be durable."

Frank says that even though the Clippers have finished their past four seasons with one or both of their stars injured or ill, he believes the team can still turn its fortunes around next season.

"I understand the skepticism of this is another year where you haven't had the group [healthy]," Frank said. "But I would guard against the cynicism. Just because it's happened [again] doesn't mean it's always going to happen next year."

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