The drama in San Antonio officially came to an end when the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for a package centered on DeMar DeRozan. However, the Leonard saga will continue in Toronto. After the Spurs-Raptors trade became official, rumors and speculations started to swirl that the 27-year-old small forward has no interest in playing and staying in Toronto.
The Raptors took a huge risk when they traded for Kawhi Leonard since they can lose him in the summer of 2019 as an unrestricted free agent without getting anything in return. In an appearance on Back To Back podcast, as reported by Lakers Nation, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star revealed that Leonard has already started making plans for his free agency next summer.
“One thing I was told [Tuesday] night is that Kawhi Leonard had already been planning out his free agency for next year. And he’s already been in contact with other star players in the league, saying, ‘Hey, where might you want to play with me? What are we looking at?’ And it wasn’t just L.A. he was talking about. Brooklyn was maybe somewhere; they’re going to have a ton of cap space. So Kawhi has already been thinking ahead to pairing up and trying to play at the highest level.”
Column: 'Kawhi's going to LA next summer,' screamed everyone that swore Paul George was Lakers-bound a year ago. On a savvy deal by Toronto, which absolutely can work out https://t.co/jthcWikBkX— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixYS) July 18, 2018
In the past few months, the Los Angeles Lakers emerged as the top free agency destination for Kawhi Leonard next offseason. When his dispute with the Spurs spread, the All-Star forward expressed a strong desire to join the Lakers. Aside from the Spurs’ asking price, one of the main reasons why the Lakers didn’t trade for Leonard is that they are very confident that he will sign with them next summer.
The Lakers purposely filled their roster with one-year contracts in order to maintain their salary cap flexibility for 2019 free agency. However, based on Arthur’s revelations, it seems like Leonard will also give other NBA teams who could create a huge salary cap space like the Brooklyn Nets a consideration when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Aside from Leonard, several NBA superstars like Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, and DeMarcus Cousins are expected to be available on the free agency market next offseason.
As of now, Leonard could be having a conversation with some of those players about teaming up in 2019. Still, as Arthur noted, the Raptors could strengthen their chance of re-signing Leonard if they prove that they are a “true” title contender next season. Also, the Raptors should create enough salary cap space to offer Leonard a maximum contract in free agency.