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There's a front-runner to land Kawhi Leonard if he leaves LA


Kawhi Leonard will probably re-sign with the Clippers. Why wouldn't he? He's at home, playing with a great group of guys around him, Ty Lue is a great coach, and Steve Ballmer's pockets are as deep as anyone's in the entire Association.

However, Kawhi's exit door seems to be slightly open as he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. If, by some miracle, he exercises his player option - not to renegotiate his contract, but to leave LA - the Heat and Mavericks plan to make a hard push for the superstar forward, with the latter being the frontrunner to acquire him.

Dallas is considered by some executives to be the most serious threat to land Kawhi because of Luka Doncic’s presence and the front office’s ability to create maximum cap space or work out a sign-and-trade. During Leonard’s years with Nike, he also developed a good relationship with Nico Harrison, the Mavs’ new general manager, and a former longtime executive at the company.

Kevin O'Connor, The Ringer

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Despite all the pull-factors working in their favor, the Mavericks would require a roster overhaul to open up a max slot for Leonard. They are currently $16 million over the cap. If Josh Richardson declines his $11,615,328 player option, unloading Dwight Powell, Dorian Finney-Smith, or Maxi Kleber could give the Mavs enough financial flexibility to sign the player of Kawhi's market value.

If Richardson opts-in, Dallas would have to turn to a sign-and-trade involving Kristaps Porzings and/or Tim Hardaway Jr. The Latvian might already be on his way out of the Mavericks after another disappointing playoff performance, and dealing Hardaway to acquire Leonard would be a no-brainer for the organization.

Still, all signs point to Kawhi staying with the Clippers -- the $17.1 million home he bought in Pacific Palisades this March might be the biggest one. Then again, everyone thought Leonard would finish his career with the Spurs. Even Kawhi himself once said it. We all know how that played out.

So, although it seems unlikely, don't close the door on Leonard leaving the Clippers just yet. There's always a level of uncertainty involving free agency decisions, and no one knows what is going on in Kawhi's head. Until he's officially back in LA, everything is possible. In the meantime, the Mavericks are waiting.

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