According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Clippers guard Luke Kennard has agreed to a contract extension that will be worth $64 million over 4 years.

The LA Times’ Andrew Greif adds that $8 million of the deal is tied up in bonuses–speculatively, I’d guess that the incentives are tied up in appearance quotas that reduce the Clippers’ salary obligation if Luke struggles to stay healthy.

Kennard is an exciting young player, and the Clippers were always going to end up paying to keep him around long-term after they traded Landry Shamet for him on draft night. It wasn’t necessarily clear whether or not that would happen before this season began via an extension, or next summer in restricted free agency–but the Clippers managed to get this deal done just a couple of hours before the deadline for rookie contracts to be extended.

Last season in Detroit, Kennard averaged 15.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 39.9% from three, demonstrating a really nice collection of offensive skills that make him a threat not just as a sharpshooter, but as a pick-and-roll ball handler who can score on a variety of mid-range pull-ups as well as create looks for his teammates. Take it from the folks who watched his first three seasons in the NBA:

Luke’s ability to stay healthy should be considered a concern, though. While he posted the stellar aforementioned numbers last season, it was in just 28 appearances before he missed most of the year with knee issues. When he takes the floor for the Clippers in tomorrow’s December 22nd, 2020 opener against the Lakers, it will be his first NBA action (excluding pre-season) since December 21st, 2019.

The contract for Kennard, with a $16M average salary and four seasons, is definitely on the hefty end of potential deals. But it comes with a realization, in the aftermath of Paul George’s massive contract extension and Marcus Morris’ new four-year deal (and the team’s hopes of signing Kawhi Leonard to a new, long-term contract next summer), that the Clippers are not going to be a team with cap room for at least four more years. To that effect, splitting hairs on Kennard’s salary is only significant when it comes to two things: Steve Ballmer’s checkbook and salary-matching in future trades. A few years ago, the Clippers got flak for signing bench guards Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford to relatively inflated deals, and both contracts ended up having utility in trades to allow the Clippers to add players (Marcin Gortat, who was past his prime but a useful stopgap, and Danilo Gallinari, who starred for the team and then was a part of the Paul George trade package) they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to bring on board.

It’s also not all that much, when you consider how the market looks for players of Luke’s age and caliber. Kyle Kuzma just agreed to a slightly smaller extension worth $40M over 3 years, with a player option in the final year. The slightly higher annual salaries for Kennard are the price the Clippers paid to have him locked up for 4 years, as opposed to Kuzma who is able to leave after 2. For a more direct comparison, Malik Beasley recently signed a 4-year, $60M deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and you’d certainly give a healthy Kennard the edge in a comparison between the two.

Ultimately, the quality of this deal for the Clippers will hinge on Kennard’s health–meaning it’s a gamble made based upon information that the team has (via their trainers, doctors, and sports scientists) and we don’t, which makes evaluating it from outside murky. I’ll say this though–given the way that the free agent market looks in the NBA next summer, Luke would have easily matched or surpassed a deal in the 4/64 range if he put together a relatively healthy campaign with similar production levels to his 2019 season, especially playing in the spotlight on a contending team. Another injury, though, and the Clippers will find themselves on the hook for four more years of undesirable salary while also wondering how much better of a deal they could have gotten had they waited until next summer to give Luke a new deal.

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Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

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