The Toronto Raptors became one of the top favorite NBA teams to fully dominate the LeBron James-less Eastern Conference after successfully acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green from the San Antonio Spurs for a package centered on DeMar DeRozan. However, trading for Leonard is definitely a huge risk for the Raptors as they could lose him in the summer of 2019 as an unrestricted free agent without getting anything in return.
Before the Spurs-Raptors blockbuster deal, Kawhi Leonard informed all the interested teams that he will be signing with his hometown team in 2019 NBA free agency. Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri remains optimistic that they can convince Leonard to stay long-term in Toronto like what the Oklahoma City Thunder did to Paul George.
However, recent reports from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN proved to be a major concern for the Raptors. In his own podcast, The Woj Pod (h/t ClutchPoints), Woj said that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers have a “real chance” of stealing Kawhi Leonard from the Raptors next summer.
“I think [Los Angeles], for him… Lakers or Clippers — both have a real chance at him and I think both are going to be able to make different cases to him.”
NBA trade news: LeBron James contacts Kevin Durant over Lakers move, Kawhi Leonard choice https://t.co/TuXagTdwWt— Andrew (@AndrewSERJJ) August 25, 2018
Since the 2018 NBA offseason started, the Lakers emerged as the top landing spot for Kawhi Leonard. Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka decided not to trade for Leonard, believing they could acquire him without giving up valuable assets in the summer of 2019. The Lakers purposely filled their roster with one-year contracts to maintain their salary cap flexibility for 2019 NBA free agency.
Aside from having a huge payday, Leonard will surely love the idea of playing alongside the best player on the planet, LeBron James. Leonard and James are two of the best two-way players in the league. Having both superstars on their roster will increase the Lakers’ chance of beating the reigning NBA champions, Golden State Warriors, in a best-of-seven series.
However, the Lakers are not the only team situated in Los Angeles as the city also has the Clippers, who claimed that they are currently the best team in Hollywood. The Clippers may have lost all their “Big Three,” but they could find a way to open enough salary cap space for two maximum free agents in 2019. If they succeed in acquiring Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers could go after other incoming free agents like Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, and DeMarcus Cousins.