The Toronto Raptors are currently in the hunt for their first NBA championship in their 24-year history, and that’s in no small part due to Kawhi Leonard’s performance in the regular season and playoffs. After coming over to Toronto last summer in a trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard led the Raptors to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference despite playing only 60 out of the team’s 82 games. But even with Toronto having made it all the way to the Finals, the latest rumors suggest that a championship win might not be enough to convince the two-time Defensive Player of the Year to remain up north.
As quoted by ClutchPoints, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne recently commented about Leonard’s possible plans in free agency and whether she thinks the outcome of the 2019 NBA Finals will have an impact on his decision process. While Shelburne said that it will likely be hard for Leonard to leave the Raptors if they beat the Golden State Warriors, she stressed that the All-NBA forward has been “pretty clear” for some time about wanting to be “back home in [Southern] California.”
All told, this could mean a move to the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers, with the latter team having been mentioned as a leading contender to acquire Leonard’s services in the 2019 offseason.
“[Leonard] has a house there which he has wanted the whole time. He wanted that before anything went south with the Spurs,” Shelburne continued. “This is a pretty consistent desire. It’s not like [Oklahoma City Thunder forward] Paul George, where like Paul George, he’s from Palmdale but he likes fishing and that kind of a lifestyle. That’s very Oklahoma.”
According to CBS Sports, Shelburne’s comments are consistent with a previous rumor from her ESPN colleague Adrian Wojnarowski, who said that location could play a greater role than winning or contract value when it comes to the decisions of Leonard and other prospective superstar free agents this summer.
Should Kawhi Leonard leave the Toronto Raptors for a Los Angeles team — as Shelburne suggested — the Clippers could still be heavily favored over the Lakers, who, per NBC Sports Bay Area, are only listed by the Caesars Palace Sports Book as the fifth most likely team to sign the superstar forward. As noted, the Clippers are considered the top favorite to acquire Leonard, with odds of -200, with the Raptors at second place with +125 odds of re-signing their top player in free agency. The New York Knicks (+280) and Warriors (+325) follow at third and fourth place, while the Lakers lag far behind with odds of +900.