NBA free agency 2021: What Kawhi Leonard's return means for the LA Clippers

Kawhi's return came down to how much money he was coming back for (1:04)

Ohm Youngmisuk details how Kawhi Leonard's four-year deal with the Clippers came to be. (1:04)

Can the LA Clippers successfully run back the bulk of last season's squad after re-signing Kawhi Leonard to a four-year, $176.3 million max deal?

Before Leonard went down with a partial right ACL tear late in the Clippers' Game 4 win over the Utah Jazz, they looked like strong contenders to win the Western Conference after rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the first round vs. the Dallas Mavericks and coming back to tie the Utah Jazz 2-2 in a series they'd go on to win without their star.

After undergoing surgery to repair his ACL, Leonard will almost certainly miss at least part of the 2021-22 season and might not return at all. Can the Clippers contend for a championship if Leonard is back for the playoffs? Let's take a look.

Why Kawhi's new contract terms are important

Although there never seemed to be much doubt Leonard would stay with the Clippers, how he would structure his new contract was an interesting question. Kawhi decided to decline a $36 million player option and the possibility of extending his contract off of that, which would have guaranteed him the maximum number of years. By opting out, Leonard was able to increase his 2021-22 salary to $39.3 million because he now has 10-plus years of experience and is eligible to make up to 35% of the cap as a maximum.