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Kawhi Leonard and Paul George officially join Clippers' roster

Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, perhaps the most talented all-around tandem in the NBA, were officially added to the Clippers' roster Wednesday.

If the Clippers exhaled, following a pursuit that was both months in the making and a frantic, late push, it was only briefly.

Now begins their work of keeping both in the fold for the long term.

Leonard signed a three-year contract worth $103 million, with a player option for the final season in 2021-22, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

The player option creates the possibility that not only could Leonard reenter free agency again after two seasons in a Clippers uniform, but the other half of the team's superstar pairing could join him. George, a six-time All-Star forward whose trade from Oklahoma City to the Clippers also became official Wednesday, also holds a player option for the 2021-22 season.

Leonard's motivation for opting out in 2021 would be financial. By that time he will have finished his 10th NBA season, a threshold that allows players to sign contracts worth the maximum 35% of a team's salary cap. By not signing a long-term contract now, there is some risk for Leonard to stay healthy. But one lesson of 2019 NBA free agency, as demonstrated by the cases of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, is that stars of the highest caliber can command maximum-salary, long-term contracts, even if injured.

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Lauded for making all the right moves just to acquire Leonard and George, the Clippers are now under pressure to retain them by keeping each appreciated, happy and healthy.

But concerns about the ultimate length of their Clippers tenures were mostly put aside Wednesday as the team realized its long-held goal of pairing Leonard with another star in the prime of his career.

In a statement, Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank hailed the signing as a "historic moment." The franchise has never before landed a free agent with the credentials of the two-time most valuable player of the NBA Finals.

"Having him on our side is a tremendous privilege and a massive responsibility," Frank said, "one we will take very seriously."

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