NBA

Paul and Leonard expected to decline options ahead of NBA free agency period

By Sports Desk August 01, 2021

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard are expected to decline player options for next season ahead of the NBA free agency period opening on Monday, but the veteran stars may stay with their teams.

After leading the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals, Paul will not exercise his $44million option for the 2021-22 season, The Athletic reported. ESPN added that the Suns are optimistic they will be able to re-sign the 36-year-old. 

Yahoo Sports first reported Leonard would decline his $36m option with the Los Angeles Clippers and become an unrestricted free agent, but ESPN reports he is expected to remain with the Clippers on a new deal after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the playoffs. 

Even if they end up staying where they are, those two will be the two biggest names on the open market beginning on Monday, but others figure to be available in trades. 

Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors may top that list as he is expected to move on from Toronto. ESPN reported that the Miami Heat's move to pick up Goran Dragic's $19.4m team option might have been designed to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal for Lowry. 

Ben Simmons also could be on the move from the Philadelphia 76ers, but Bradley Beal now seems set to stay with the Washington Wizards after they sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in a draft-night trade. 

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    Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said the Eastern Conference Finals will be an old-school defensive slugfest, and that he feels the best two teams made it.

    The Heat needed six games to triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Boston Celtics came back from 3-2 down against the Milwaukee Bucks to get the job done in Game 7.

    As a reward for getting their series out of the way early, the Heat will have five days of rest before Tuesday's Game 1, while the Celtics have just one proper rest day between series.

    Speaking to the media after Monday's practice, Spoelstra said it is shaping up as a series that will warm the heart of Heat president Pat Riley.

    "Pat's [Riley] probably is going to enjoy this," he said. "This is like a throwback series. 

    "If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on rock-solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. 

    "So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins… really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it's fitting that we're moving into the conference finals.

    "Boston has played as well as anyone in the entire league once they got to 2022. It's not by accident. They're playing very strong basketball. They do it on both ends."

    Heat star Jimmy Butler was asked about his potential matchup against Jayson Tatum, and he had nothing but praise for the Celtics' best player.

    "He's one of the best in the game right now," he said. "As much attention as he draws on the offensive end – and then I think what's really impressive is the way that he's picked up his defensive intensity. 

    "You got to tip your hat to that and respect him, I think those are the guys that you want to go up against."

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