By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — With the Los Angeles Clippers compiling one of their best rosters ever, Kawhi Leonard wanted to make sure the focus was on the quest for a first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history rather than his future.
So Leonard signed a three-year contract extension worth $152.3 million on Wednesday.
A person familiar with the agreement confirmed the value of the deal to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because financial terms were not released.
“It was time to do it. I’m happy,” Leonard said after he scored 29 points in the Clippers’ 126-120 victory over the Toronto Raptors. “I’m just focused on the right now. I’m in a moment in this season of trying to get us to a place we haven’t been before.”
The two-time NBA Finals MVP is averaging 24.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in his 12th NBA season. The 32-year-old forward has been in good health, playing in 33 of 37 games so far. He recently returned after missing four games with a hip injury.
Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, said there was never a doubt in his mind that an extension would be reached.
“It just made sense from both sides. We both wanted the same thing,” Frank said. “We wanted Kawhi to be a Clipper for a long time and Kawhi wants to be a Clipper for a long time.”
Leonard signed with the Clippers during the 2019 offseason after leading the Raptors to an NBA title. He was in the third year of a four-year deal he signed in 2021 that calls for him to earn a base salary of $45,640,084 this season. He had a player option for next season at $48,787,676.
“When you can get a top-tier player to sign back, it says a lot about your organization and all the work put in to to get to this position. It is a great day for the organization,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
Leonard is a five-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He also won an NBA title with San Antonio in 2014.
The Clippers are fourth in the West with a 24-13 record. Their 16-3 record since Dec. 1 is the best in the league as the core unit of Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook has gelled with James Harden, who was acquired in a Nov. 1 trade with Philadelphia.
George, who arrived with Leonard in 2019, and Harden are also eligible for extensions. Frank said talks with George are still ongoing, but discussions with Harden can not begin until after the NBA Finals.
Lue said the addition of Harden has meant Leonard and George have run fewer pick-and-roll plays, which has helped decrease the amount of wear and tear on their bodies.
“I think James also has made it easier for Kawhi and Paul to have more catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and to play off closeouts. That’s been really good for us,” Lue said.
AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
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