Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard may be one of the top players heading into free agency after the 2018-19 NBA season, but if the latest rumors are accurate, there’s a good chance he’ll be staying in Canada instead of taking his talents to one of the multiple teams reportedly interested in his services.
Citing unnamed sources familiar with the Raptors’ organization, TSN‘s Josh Lewenberg wrote on Monday that team officials have become “increasingly confident” that they could re-sign Leonard once his contract comes up this summer. With Toronto’s 51-23 win-loss record putting them at second place in the entire NBA, the team has, according to Lewenberg, been “trending in the right direction” as they look forward to a deep run in the playoffs and prepare for Leonard’s impending free agency on July 1.
As further discussed by Lewenberg, the Los Angeles Clippers are likely to be the team that will make the most “aggressive” attempt to sign Kawhi Leonard in the 2019 offseason, as the organization has sent several representatives to watch multiple Raptors games, including assistant general manager Mark Hughes, team president Lawrence Frank, and owner Steve Ballmer. Together with the crosstown Lakers, the Clippers are seen as a team that could offer Leonard a chance to play in a city with a warmer climate, as well as one that could sell the two-time Defensive Player of the Year on the idea of playing close to home.
Despite the strong chance that one or both Los Angeles teams will make a serious push for Leonard in the offseason, TSN‘s Lewenberg stressed that the Raptors are focusing on the “other priorities” that motivate him on the court. These include the chance at signing a substantially larger and longer contract, and the mutual trust between both sides that was cultivated from the time he joined Toronto via trade in the 2018 offseason.
“That’s what their pitch will center on: trust, familiarity, a commitment to maintaining his health and the shared goal of chasing a championship, as well as the extra year and contract worth nearly $50 million more than anyone else can offer.”
— Brandon Robinson (@ScoopB) March 26, 2019
According to Bleacher Report, Lewenberg was referring to how the Raptors could offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million maximum contract, as opposed to other teams, which could only offer a four-year, $141 million deal.
While Kawhi Leonard has played only 54 out of the Raptors’ 74 games this season, mostly due to the team’s efforts to rest him following a quad injury that limited him to nine games in 2017-18, the former San Antonio Spurs superstar is currently leading the way in Toronto with an average of 27.2 points, along with 7.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.
As pointed out by Bleacher Report, the Raptors have “done as much as they can” to boost Leonard’s spirits, and could plausibly re-sign him in the coming offseason despite the competition from other teams. The outlet explained that this is because Kawhi’s fellow All-Star, Paul George, surprised observers last summer by re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder and not joining the Lakers via free agency as many had expected.