With one year remaining on his contract with the San Antonio Spurs, Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors in the summer of 2018 and has since enjoyed a productive run for the NBA’s only Canadian franchise. Nonetheless, rumors have still swirled around the 27-year-old forward, who, prior to his move to Toronto, had been linked to teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. With these rumors in mind, a new report hints at two likely scenarios for Leonard as he tests free agency in the 2019 offseason — either he re-signs with the Raptors or inks a deal to join the Clippers.
In a piece that centered on what the Raptors can do to ensure Leonard re-signs with the team this summer, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps stressed that despite Kawhi’s smooth transition to his new environment, Toronto definitely won’t be able to provide two things to the Los Angeles native — the feeling of being at home and warm weather all year round. He added that the Clippers can offer these two things to the two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, which makes it unsurprising how the team has made several attempts to court him since the start of the 2018-19 season.
Given the above circumstances, Bontemps noted that the “popular opinion” among NBA team executives is that Kawhi Leonard will either return to the Toronto Raptors and sign a new contract this summer or join the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent. He also suggested that the Clippers might have a better chance of signing Leonard if they specifically sell him on the advantages of playing for the hometown team and “[staying] away from [the] snow.”
Though Bontemps didn’t bring up the Los Angeles Lakers in his new report, the team was mentioned in an ESPN story in November from the same writer, where he quoted Leonard as saying he grew up idolizing then-Philadelphia 76ers superstar point guard Allen Iverson and therefore “didn’t like the Lakers.” At that time, the Clippers were “universally” ahead of the Lakers among Leonard’s free agency suitors, based on what Bontemps described as a survey of unnamed league executives.
Over the summer of 2018, pundits had largely pegged the Lakers as leading candidates to trade for Leonard, but expectations were tempered as early as July, as NBA insider Shams Charania appeared on Fox Sports’ The Herd and said that it’s unlikely Leonard was “jumping for joy” upon hearing word that LeBron James signed with the Lakers. This, Charania stated, was due to his aversion to the idea of playing for a so-called “superteam,” as cited by the Sporting News.
With the Toronto Raptors currently at second place in the Eastern Conference with a 28-11 record, Leonard has been enjoying a career year (27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals per game) after playing just nine games for the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-18, Bleacher Report wrote. The publication predicted that Leonard might find it hard to leave Toronto if the Raptors perform well in the 2019 postseason and establish dominance in the East, though it wouldn’t be surprising if he signs with the Clippers (21-16, sixth in Western Conference) to give the team the true superstar they currently lack.