When the Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2018, there were already expectations that the two-time Defensive Player of the Year would effectively be a one-year rental for the Toronto team. After leading the Raptors to the first NBA championship in the team’s 24-year history, Leonard tested the free-agent market as many had predicted, and chose to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. However, a recent report suggests there may have been more in play for Leonard beyond a desire to play for one of his hometown teams.
Citing sources who spoke to the publication, TSN‘s Josh Lewenberg wrote on Wednesday that the Raptors were “confident” about the possibility of re-signing Leonard as they headed into free agency, only for this confidence to “waver” after the team met with the All-NBA forward and his uncle, Dennis Robertson, last Wednesday. While Raptors president, Masai Ujiri, told the outlet he believes Leonard was upfront during the negotiation process, Lewenberg suggested that the executive may have been referring to Robertson as the reason why negotiations with Leonard were supposedly difficult.
“Robertson has a reputation for being hard to deal with and would have been hands on throughout the process,” Lewenberg wrote.
“According to sources, Leonard and his camp – namely Uncle Dennis – asked for a lot from the Raptors in that meeting, things players don’t generally ask for in standard contract negotiations.”
As further noted, Leonard and Robertson reportedly made “unreasonable” requests to Raptors management, which made the team “wonder” if its top player had serious plans to re-sign in free agency. These requests, per Lewenberg, included a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George, who was ultimately shipped to the Clippers at the same time reports confirmed that Leonard agreed to sign with the team.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 10, 2019
Aside from pointing out that the deal that would have sent George to Toronto was “never as close” as previous reports had claimed, TSN‘s Lewenberg clarified that point guard Russell Westbrook was not included in these trade talks. He added that the purported trade talks between the Raptors and the Thunder did not even reach both teams’ top executives.
Once everything was said and done, it reportedly became clear to the Raptors that Kawhi Leonard “had eyes for the Clippers all along.”
As observed by Bleacher Report, the Raptors now find themselves in a position where they could either pursue another deep playoff run behind their returning players or start the rebuilding process by trading veteran stars Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. While Toronto reportedly has no plans of moving these players in the offseason, the outlet speculated that it would not be shocking if all three become available in midseason trade discussions.