Kawhi Leonard free agency fits: Raptors, Clippers, others in race for NBA’s top free agent

first_imgOther potential suitors for Kawhi LeonardLakers: The other Los Angeles team insists it has a chance to form a “Big Three” of Leonard, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It’s definitely possible now that the Lakers have created max cap space.76ers: Philadelphia reportedly could get a meeting with Leonard. Not a great shot here, but Philly has to at least make an attempt.Knicks: When free agency starts, the Knicks are expected to meet with Leonard and Durant before shifting toward secondary targets, according to The Athletic’s Frank Isola. New York isn’t very high on the list, but again, it’s worth seeing if there’s any positive feedback from Leonard. A Finals MVP coming off one of the greatest individual postseason runs in NBA history? Yep, Kawhi Leonard is definitely the best free agent on the market.After winning the second title of his career with the Raptors, Leonard unsurprisingly declined his $21.3 million player option, placing himself atop Sporting News’ free agent rankings. An injury-plagued, drama-filled 2017-18 season with the Spurs brought out plenty of skeptics, but Leonard shut them all down with a tour de force through the 2019 playoffs. NBA FREE AGENCY: Latest news, rumors on Kawhi LeonardThere is no question Leonard will receive a max offer when free agency officially begins Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. He is one of the few players in the league who falls under the category of “just do whatever it takes to sign him.”Based on all the reporting to this point, Leonard’s free agency will be a Raptors vs. Clippers battle, though an outside team could always emerge. Let’s start with the champs.Kawhi Leonard re-signs with the RaptorsToronto knows it has the advantage in terms of money. The Raptors can offer an extra year and approximately $50 million more than any other team can offer in free agency.Kawhi Leonard max contractRaptorsNew teamTotal money$190 million$140 millionYears on contract54Average per year$38 million$35 millionThat difference would matter to plenty of players, but Leonard was also eligible for a $221 million supermax with the Spurs before he got traded. If nothing else, Kawhi is his own man.Another option in play is Leonard asking for a one-plus-one deal, a la LeBron James with the Cavs and Kevin Durant with the Warriors. That would allow Leonard to chase another championship and maintain future flexibility. Remember, he will turn 28 right before free agency begins. Teams won’t be less interested in him if he’s available again in 2020 or 2021.Aside from the financial element, the Raptors made the absolute most out of their one guaranteed season with Leonard.Does winning matter? Leonard has a shiny new ring. How about health? Toronto’s staff formulated a load management plan that allowed Leonard to reach peak performance in the playoffs. (Director of sports science Alex McKechnie deserves a lot of credit here.) Organizational stability? President of basketball operations Masai Ujiri isn’t going anywhere, and neither is coach Nick Nurse. The Raptors can run it back with the same roster that just defeated the rest of the Eastern Conference.Add it all up, and that’s an incredibly strong argument to stay in Toronto. It makes sense that the Raptors are the favorites in the Leonard sweepstakes.Kawhi Leonard signs with the ClippersHow can the Clippers possibly compete with the Raptors? Location, location, location. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz explains why the Clippers could hold an advantage simply by being in Los Angeles:Leonard grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire, before heading off to San Diego, where he played his college ball at San Diego State. Extremely protective of his private life, he keeps close quarters with a tight circle of family and dear friends — many of them located in Southern California. Those who have spent time with him in San Diego say that the impassive Leonard is a different person when he’s in his natural habitat.Of course, the Clippers can’t rely on sunshine and beaches alone to bring Leonard home. They will need a terrific pitch for their reported July 2 meeting with Leonard in order to jump the Raptors.The Clips can sell stability like the Raptors. Owner Steve Ballmer is committed to upgrading the franchise, whether it’s the roster, facilities or overall reputation. (Having nearly $50 billion must be nice.) President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and general manager Michael Winger are savvy front-office minds. Coach Doc Rivers just led a scrappy bunch to the playoffs and pushed Golden State to six games in the first round.Los Angeles also has intriguing young pieces to place around Leonard, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who averaged 10.8 points and 3.3 assists in 82 games as a rookie. The Clippers don’t have a secondary star on the rise like Pascal Siakam, though, nor do they have an abundance of quality veterans that fit together as well as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.That’s the gap between the Raptors and Clippers, one LA could close with another splash in free agency. There are “strong indications” that Leonard would be interested in playing with Jimmy Butler, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick. The dream scenario of Leonard and Durant is likely gone, so is Butler enough to convince Leonard to head back toward the Staples Center?Tough to say. Leonard is the perfect poker player. As much as the Clippers would like for him to have a tell at the table, they may be waiting around anxiously like the rest of us as Leonard contemplates his next move.last_img

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