When Kawhi Leonard demanded a trade from the San Antonio Spurs, he named the Los Angeles Lakers as his preferred trade destination. However, Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka decided to pass on trading for Leonard, believing that they could acquire him without giving up valuable assets when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The Lakers purposely filled their roster with one-year contracts to maintain their salary cap flexibility for the 2019 NBA free agency where Kawhi Leonard will be one of their top targets. Unfortunately, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, there are speculations around the league that Leonard “prefers to have control” of his own team instead of serving as the sidekick of LeBron James in Los Angeles.
“A survey of several league executives this weekend had the Lakers trailing, even among Staples Center tenants, in the competition to get Leonard, with the LA Clippers universally being placed ahead of them. Rather than seeking to team up with James, the thinking is that Leonard would prefer to have control of his own team, which the Clippers would offer, while still giving him the ability to return to his native Southern California. The Lakers explored a potential Leonard trade this summer, but the San Antonio Spurs’ asking price prevented a deal from ever coming close to fruition.”
Despite growing up in the heart of Laker country, Kawhi Leonard was an Allen Iverson fan. That willingness to be different is, in part, what gives Toronto confidence it can keep Leonard from returning to Southern California as a free agent next summer. https://t.co/TEVvlNFlFZ— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) November 5, 2018
As of now, it seems like the Clippers have a higher chance of acquiring Kawhi Leonard next summer than the Lakers. While having the capability to give Leonard a max contract, the Clippers could still have enough salary cap space to sign another superstar that will be available on the free agency market. However, there is also a huge possibility that Leonard will consider staying with the Toronto Raptors instead of playing for his hometown team.
When they traded for Kawhi Leonard, Raptors President Masai Ujiri expressed a strong confidence that they can convince him to stay beyond the 2018-19 NBA season. Ujiri believes that they could do the same thing the Oklahoma City Thunder did to re-sign Paul George in the recent free agency.
So far, Leonard and the Raptors looked like a match made in heaven. They are currently sitting in the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 10-1 record. Should they remain healthy and consistent throughout the season, it will not be a surprise if the Raptors make their first appearance in the NBA Finals this season. Making a deep playoff run could put the Raptors in a strong position to re-sign Leonard to a long-term deal next summer.