Storyline: Kawhi Leonard Free Agency

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Along with the high risk, however, comes a high reward, which is why the Raptors were willing to make the deal. Should Leonard prove to be healthy, they’ll be one of the main contenders to win the Eastern Conference this season. Plus, they’ll have the next nine months to convince Leonard to stay in Toronto and re-sign for the long term. So how does Raptors president Masai Ujiri plan on going about that? Well, he explained as much on a recent appearance on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast, The Woj Pod. “We are who we are. We are going to be prepared, we are going to make things as smooth… I think you want to be genuine, you want to be real. You know, this is who we are. We might not be the best ones in weather, but we might be the best ones in many other places: the diversity, the city, the uniqueness of a place like [Toronto], fans, the atmosphere. I think those things are so unique, it’s beginning to show everywhere.”

Speaking on the latest episode of his Inside the Green Room podcast Tuesday, Green suggested that just by being in Toronto, the city’s charms have a good chance at seducing Leonard to stick around longer than just the one season remaining on his current contract. “I don’t know where his mind is at for the future. I can’t predict or tell you. I can just tell you that the city of Toronto is gonna be hard to turn down after being there,” said Green. “I’ve been going every summer for the past 10-plus years. It’s a great city and the fans are amazing. … I’m getting a great amount of feedback, a great amount of love and all types of different stuff from the fans. So it’s gonna be tough for him to turn down.”

As he explains on the podcast, Green has been working out in San Diego with Leonard and got a chance to pick his brain a bit. The new Raptors guard wouldn’t go into great detail about their conversation, but says Leonard’s looking forward to the season. “He asked me some questions about how I feel about [the trade] and I was like, ‘It’s great, man. I love the situation,’” said Green. “[He] said his body looks good, said his body feels good. I’m looking forward to see how he comes out this year – everybody is, I’m sure – but I think he’s antsy. He said he’s been working out for two years.

One name that’s flown under the radar to a large extent — despite a seamless fit and connections to the Lakers organization — is Klay Thompson, and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN says his name has come up with those she’s spoken to in an appearance on “ESPNLA Mornings with Keyshawn, LZ and Travis”: “In terms of who they target next year, it’s whoever wants to come. “My feeling about it, my sense from just talking to people in and around this (is that) one, it’s a little early, but I think they like Mychal’s boy. I think that would be the guy, in terms of skillset and how that would fit. Obviously Kawhi, he’s a great player as well, but we’ll see if he stays in Toronto now. But I think they like Klay (Thompson).”

The creators of the site are encouraging Raps supporters from across the country and beyond to sign an online form and jot down a fond memory or a sentimental note about what the Raptors mean to them, in hopes of tugging on Leonard’s heart strings and tipping his scales to the other side — the north side — of the fence come decision time. “First and foremost, it’s an opportunity for us as fans to welcome Kawhi to our beautiful city, the country of Canada, and to the basketball team we are all so passionate about,” a description on the website reads.

“Based off of me talking to people within his circle, they’re going to go into this thing with an open mind and give this thing every last opportunity to work,” Young said on the TSN OverDrive podcast. “And at the end of the day, if that’s the case, then it would be great if he stays. Obviously, I think part of his mind, yes, let’s keep real: I think he still feels like L.A. might be the destination. At the same time, he plans to go into this thing with an open mind, giving it every single shot in the world to make it work.”

Bowen proceeded to criticize the Clippers: “Kawhi never said ‘I want to play for the Clippers.’ Kawhi said he wanted to play for the Lakers. Unfortunately, if you’re going to run your organization based on hopes, maybe, and getting rid of others, now if I tore him down and if I was disrespectful to him, that’s one thing. But that’s not the case. As an analyst, I’m supposed to talk about what I see and what I feel for this game that I love. If you can’t do that, what does that say about your organization?”

As has been well-documented, the task for Toronto in the coming year is to persuade Leonard to stay in a place and perform for a team for which he had no desire to play just a few short weeks ago. It’s a tall order, and if the Raptors can do it, the massive gamble they took this month will have paid off. Most around the league still expect that Leonard will look to return home to Southern California, either to join LeBron James with the Lakers or bring his star power to the Clippers.

I don’t think so. Marks is his own man and his staff has its own tale to tell Leonard and his representatives. The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, had a good shot at Leonard in part because of Leonard’s relationship with Sixers coach Brett Brown — a relationship that was formed while Brown was an assistant in San Antonio. Unless Marks rubbed Leonard the wrong way somehow in the 210, and there’s absolutely no evidence I know of indicating that, I think Leonard will give the Nets a fair hearing next July.

The Raptors certainly want to try and convince Leonard to stay, and they have a story to tell — about their team, their organization, and their city/country that is unique among NBA franchises. Maybe Leonard and Kyle Lowry hit it off off the floor the way Lowry and DeMar DeRozan did. Maybe Toronto’s legendary Director of Sports Science, Alex McKechnie — who has worked wonders with NBA players for two-plus decades — gets in front of him and finds something that works to rapidly improve Leonard’s quad.

So Leonard will zip up his parka, play an obligatory season with the Raptors, respectfully decline their offer for a long-term supermax contract and bid adieu to the Great White North next summer … just as the Lakers, who conspicuously have been signing free agents to one-year contracts, clear salary cap space for him to join LeBron James. Right? That’s the off-the-rack take. Here’s what someone who knows Leonard as well as anybody told me privately: “He’s going to fall in love with Toronto – it’s going to happen. He’s not going to leave, I’m telling you.”

MARC STEIN: But I did hear enough chatter in various Vegas conversations to believe that the Raptors have given legit consideration to gambling on a trade for Leonard, with three obvious problems to contend with: 1) Leonard can leave in free agency at season’s end, even if the Raptors are fortunate enough to trade for him. 2) Leonard’s camp has given no indication to any interested team that he plans to sign anywhere but Los Angeles (with either the Lakers or the Clippers) in July 2019. 3) Leonard’s readiness for next season, thanks to the quadriceps injury that limited him to nine games last season, has to concern teams in Toronto’s position as much as the idea of trading for him and losing him months later.
3 months ago via ESPN

4 months ago via ESPN

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said Thursday night that the franchise’s desire is to keep disgruntled All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard in the fold but that the club “will explore all of our options.” Among the issues Leonard has had with the Spurs is his frustration with the team’s handling of a quadriceps injury that kept him out of action for all but nine games this past season. Leonard wants to be traded to Los Angeles, preferably to the Lakers, sources have told ESPN.

According to Robinson, Kawhi has to take responsibility and step up as a leader of the franchise if he wants to be viewed on the same level as LeBron James. “If you want to be a top two or three player in the league, you’ve got to be a leader. LeBron doesn’t sit around waiting for people to talk for him. LeBron gets out there and says ‘hey, this is my team, this is what’s happening.’ And I think that’s where Kawhi is. He’s meant so much for our franchise. We love him, we all want him to be there next year. But we want him to be there and take control.”
4 months ago via ESPN

Sixers, Lakers interested in trading for Kawhi Leonard

The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have interest in Leonard, each with a differing array of young assets to trade for him now and the potential of salary-cap space to sign Leonard outright in 2019. In the end, Leonard could dictate his destination based on his willingness to sign long term upon a trade. Oklahoma City acquired All-Star forward Paul George last summer without a commitment, and there will undoubtedly be a few teams with a similarly adventurous spirit in pursuit of Leonard.
8 months ago via ESPN

Lakers standing pat at trade deadline?

As the Los Angeles Lakers become more realistic about the franchise’s chances of snaring superstars in the free agent class of 2018, the front office is increasingly looking through a longer lens in its team building process, league sources told ESPN. The Lakers aren’t abandoning a summer pursuit of stars, but rather recalibrating on the possibility of a 2019 class that could include San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, league sources told ESPN.
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