Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri earned plenty of criticisms after he decided to trade DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and 2019 protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Though Leonard is no doubt a better player than DeRozan, he is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Since the 2018 NBA season started, the 27-year-old small forward has expressed his desire to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Before the Spurs sent him to the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard informed interested teams that he will be signing with the Purple and Gold in 2019 NBA free agency. Leonard’s mindset of joining the Lakers hasn’t changed despite the reports that he is already warming to the idea of playing in Toronto, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (h/t Lakers Nation).
“The one thing I was told today, he’s starting to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that can be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference, and now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But, in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.”
Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka decided to pass on trading for Kawhi Leonard this summer with the belief that they could acquire him without giving up valuable assets next offseason. They purposely filled their roster with one-year contracts to maintain their salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2019 where Leonard will join other NBA superstars like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, and DeAndre Jordan in the free agency market.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) July 25, 2018
With their goal to return to title contention, the Lakers obviously need to add another superstar who can play alongside LeBron James. The 33-year-old small forward will surely love the idea of having Kawhi Leonard, a known LeBron-stopper, on his team. However, as of now, the Lakers must be aware that anything can happen between now and the 2019 NBA free agency.
Last offseason, Paul George also looked determined to play for the Lakers. But after spending one season with Russell Westbrook, George immediately re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2018 NBA free agency. Like the Thunder, Masai Ujiri and the Raptors have one year to convince Leonard to stay long-term in Toronto.
Recently, an anonymous source, who reportedly knows Leonard as well as anybody, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the All-Star forward is “going to fall in love in Toronto.” This undeniably is good news for Raptors fans who are worried that they traded their most loyal player, DeMar DeRozan, for a possible one-year rental. However, it’s highly unlikely that Johnson and Pelinka will let another superstar slip on their hands. The Lakers will surely do everything to keep Leonard interested in joining the Lakers next summer.