Storyline: Kawhi Leonard Free Agency

120 rumors in this storyline

There’s also interest in point guard Kyle Lowry, who could be available if the Raptors lose Kawhi Leonard in free agency. Because of Lowry’s age (33) and contract ($33 million for next season), the Lakers could bring him in for a relatively limited outgoing package. Another guy who, according to sources, the Lakers have an interest in is big man Derrick Favors. The Jazz have a team option on Favors that must be exercised by July 6 or he will be a free agent.

More Rumors in this Storyline


However, after Toronto had a stellar regular season and the medical staff took care of Leonard’s body and minutes well, Wojnarowski believes the Raptors have made pretty good progress with Leonard and his camp. “Kawhi Leonard just felt all along, it was going to take the full year to sell him on Toronto,” Wojnarowski said on the Woj Pod. “It wasn’t going to be done in training camp or by Christmas or by the trade deadline. “But I do think they’ve made progress with him. I do think they’ve made pretty good progress with him from the sense I have. They put themselves in it. And when Kawhi showed up there, I’m not sure he imagined any future in Toronto. I do think it’s a serious consideration now.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski explained that Leonard could take meetings with teams that could pay him his much-awaited max contract, but ultimately would be narrowed down to two front-runners: “I think teams like New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, teams who potentially have significant cap space, he might take meetings with them,” Wojnarowski said of Leonard as a guest on ESPN’s “Get Up!” “But I think by the time you get to July 1, typically players have a really strong idea about where they’re gonna go and usually their eyes are not getting opened in a one- or two-hour meeting with a team they haven’t given great consideration to. I think this is Clippers and Raptors. “The Raptors can pay him more, they can pay him a $200-million-plus deal if he wants to stay in Toronto.”

Kawhi Leonard is another top free agent expected to at least give the Nets a look. Marks has solid rapport with Leonard’s uncle and advisor, South Orange, N.J.-based Dennis Robertson. It should be noted that Marks spent time with Kawhi in San Antonio, as well as Brooklyn’s assistant coach/scout Tiago Splitter who played with him for four seasons. The two will be integral in trying to lure Kawhi away from the Toronto Raptors. “All the connections should at least get [the Nets] a meeting with Kawhi,” one league source said.
2 months ago via TSN

Behind the scenes, many Toronto Raptors officials have become increasingly confident in the team’s chances of re-signing this summer, sources tell TSN. Building a relationship and establishing mutual trust with the enigmatic superstar hasn’t been a linear process. As the season’s unfolded, there have been a few bumps in the road and moments of doubt. But things appear to be trending in the right direction and the timing couldn’t be better, with the playoffs less than three weeks away and the start of free agency two and a half months after that.
2 months ago via TSN

The Los Angeles Clippers are expected to make the most aggressive push for Leonard, and they’ve made little secret of it. The Clippers have had representatives at many Raptors games this season, home and away, ranging from scouts, to assistant general manager Mark Hughes – who attended Friday’s game against Oklahoma City – to team president Lawrence Frank and billionaire owner Steve Ballmer.The Clippers – like the Lakers, who some league insiders believe to be less of a draw to Leonard – can offer at least a few things Toronto can’t. They can offer a warmer climate and an opportunity for the California native to play closer to home. If those are the factors that end up powering Leonard’s decision, the Raptors don’t stand a chance and likely never did.
2 months ago via TSN

However, as they’ve gotten to know Leonard better, they have come to understand the other priorities that drive him on daily basis. That’s what their pitch will centre 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. Winning is undoubtedly important to Leonard, and it’s quite clear regular-season victories aren’t what he’s after. To that point, how the Raptors fare over the coming months could go a long way in strengthening or weakening their bid. If they’re playing into June, they’ll have a pretty compelling case to make in the room with Leonard a few weeks later. Conversely, if they flameout in early-May that pitch becomes a lot tougher to sell.

Asked to handicap Leonard’s future, one front office executive from another team said, “I think the Lakers are out, but the Clippers are the ones who think they have a shot at him if they decide to go that route. You hear a lot, he still wants to be on the West Coast. But give that group in Toronto all the credit in the world. They’re making it a tough decision for him. “It might come down to just, ‘All right, how did the playoffs go, and how far are we from a championship?'”

Leonard will become an unrestricted free agent this summer once he declines his 2019-20 player option with the Toronto Raptors. “I do not,” Wright said when asked if he believes Leonard would have interest in playing with James on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective Podcast. “That’s just what I’ve been told. It’s what I’ve been told going back to last summer. I don’t see that as something that’s happening. “I think he goes to the Clippers.”

Chris Haynes: “We all know that the Clippers have two max slots. They’re going to be aggressive… They have interest in Jimmy Butler. They’re going to go after KD. They’re going to go after Kawhi Leonard. And, this has been said before so I’m not reporting anything new, but I think the Clippers have a really good shot at Kawhi. I really do. Give credit to that front office over there and the way they’ve changed the culture… It depends on how things play out in Toronto. I think they really have to, if not win the championship, [at least] get to the NBA Finals to kind of cure the concern. That’s going to be really interesting. I’m looking forward to how [Leonard’s free agency] is going to play out probably even more so than Kevin Durant.”

Nate Duncan: “For the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, Boston and Los Angeles are in there…Are there any other teams outside of those two that could realistically get in that mix?” Chris Haynes: “No team is concrete. Obviously there’s some teams looking and lurking. L.A. Clippers, they’re being really aggressive out there. They’re looking at Kawhi Leonard. They’re looking at Kevin Durant. Obviously they’re monitoring the Anthony Davis situation, they’re monitoring DeMarcus Cousins – seeing how he’s gonna progress through the achilles injury.”

Privately, Raptors officials admit OKC’s success at retaining George emboldened them—while also creating a blueprint. Thunder executives are quick to point to George’s bond with Westbrook as the most significant factor in his decision to stay. The Raptors’ Westbrook is Kyle Lowry, the four-time All-Star point guard who is in his seventh season in Toronto. But while Westbrook—who felt the sting of Kevin Durant’s defection in 2016 and absorbed a first-round defeat in ’17—embraced the role of recruiter, Lowry has been more reluctant.

Inside the locker room, Leonard’s free agency is rarely discussed, even if everyone is wary of the consequences. “We need him to stay,” says Ibaka. “He keeps everybody safe—no one is safe if he leaves.” Ibaka has been one of Leonard’s strongest new connections. In Leonard, Ibaka sees shades of Westbrook and Kevin Durant, his former teammates in Oklahoma City. “They have a similar mind-set, where if they want to do something, they know they can.” In San Antonio, Leonard was known as the Claw. In Toronto, Ibaka has tried to make Deadly Zombie (self-explanatory) and Cape Town (the city in South Africa) stick. “I don’t know why, but he keeps telling me he’s from Cape Town,” says Ibaka, who was born in Congo. “Of all the places. . . . Maybe he just wants to visit there someday.”
5 months ago via ESPN

Those are two things the LA Clippers can offer, which is part of why their pursuit of Leonard has drawn so much attention. Some aspects of it have been overt, such as the Clippers’ presence at many of his games this season in a scouting capacity. Others have been less so, such as their decision to hire former Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins. The popular opinion among league executives six months before Leonard makes his decision is that he’ll choose between the Raptors and the Clippers. If it comes down to those two teams, the chance for Leonard to come home and to stay away from snow could be the Clippers’ strongest argument.
5 months ago via ESPN

While the Raptors believe they have plenty to offer beyond the court — the massive marketing potential that comes with living in one of North America’s biggest cities and a vibrant, passionate fan base — privately, the franchise is confident in its abilities to make a compelling pitch based on basketball reasons. “When we came aboard six years ago, we wanted to bring this organization to a level where you can make this pitch,” Webster said. “So you have strength in excellence around the organization — the basketball side, the coaching staff, the medical and support staff, obviously ownership — to where when we have a superstar player, an MVP-candidate-type player, now we can go to him and say, ‘We are really confident in who we are, we’re really proud of what we’ve built, and these are all the reasons why we think you should stay.’

While Green and Leonard came as a package, there is no guarantee they remain one after this season. Both former Spurs are heading into free agency this summer and while Green is open to anything, last summer proved anything can happen. “Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen after this year,” he said. “I would love to still be here (with the Raptors), obviously, but we don’t know. We don’t know where [Leonard’s] going to be, we don’t know a lot of things (that) are going to happen. “In terms of decision making, (Leonard’s future) affects everybody.”

“If [Leonard] stays they might want to bring everybody back, if he leaves they might want to change, who knows?” Green said. “We’re both grown, we can make our own decisions for our own families. We might sit down and talk about it to see what page he’s on and how he feels about something and how I feel, but at this point we’re not thinking about that or talking about it. We’re trying to play good basketball… and get everybody healthy and winning games. “Hopefully at the end of the year we can celebrate somethings, outside of free agency.”

A day later in Oakland, where the Raptors had gone to face Golden State, I circled back with Leonard to make sure I read the situation right. Sure enough, as he confirmed, he didn’t know the man who had been standing there when we said hello. “No, who was it?” he asked. “Lawrence Frank, the head of the Clippers’ front office,” I replied. “Oh, that was Lawrence Frank?” he said with a smile (and no, to answer the obvious question, he didn’t share one of his legendary laughs).

It also includes the periphery relationship-building that is equally important, learning who matters most inside said player’s inner circle and, in essence, what makes them tick. The gray area that comes with recruiting is where it gets trickier, not only because of tampering rules that govern such matters (albeit not very well) but because of the tougher-to-define desire across the league for some professional courtesy in such matters. Yet the Raptors officials with whom I spoke, and who are hoping their mid-July trade with San Antonio to make him their centerpiece wasn’t a one-year rental, expressed no concern over the Clippers’ style. And if what transpired after that Raptors-Clippers game is any indication, it’s quite clear that this isn’t about getting Leonard to notice them or their efforts.

The acquisition of Kawhi Leonard by the Toronto Raptors has gone extremely well, but they remain nervous about their odds of re-signing him in 2019. “They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.” Wojnarowski also added that quality of life will also be a priority for Leonard and that his prior championship changes the equation for some players.

This chatter fills sports talk radio shows, Twitter debates, message boards, broadcast airwaves, and more. The noise also ramps up when Leonard goes to places he has been linked, such as Los Angeles. “I focus on what we’re doing,” Leonard said of his reaction to all the speculation prior to his Raptors knocking off the Clippers Tuesday night (without him due to a sore hip). “I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me. At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.” Does what is being said bother him? “Not at all. I don’t watch TV too much,” Leonard said, adding he uses apps to watch movies and TV shows.

General manager Bobby Webster accompanied the team on its four-game swing, presumably for the front office to take every and any opportunity to get to know him better. With one of the stops being in L.A., it would also be prudent to be around to monitor with whom he might cross paths, as well, but Raptors players and executives downplay the idea that they’re in any way anxious about fighting off Leonard’s other suitors. Lowry said he will not make a point of trying to convince him to stay. “I don’t ever do any of that stuff,” he said. “My teammates are my brothers. Above anything else, I want them to do whatever makes them happy.”

It’s possible no one comes. Leonard could stay in Toronto. Butler, who is trying to force his way out of Minnesota by the February trade deadline, could re-sign with whichever team acquires him. Durant could choose New York or Brooklyn. And yet one rival executive calls the Clippers “the most attractive free-agent situation of all of them, because none of the available free agents want to be LeBron’s caddy. And they can become the greatest player in the history of a franchise in an unbelievable market with the wealthiest owner in the league. Why would that not thrill you?”

As time has gone on, those rumours have focused more on the Los Angeles Clippers. The Los Angeles Lakers boast LeBron James and the greatest marketing advantage in the sport, but there are some around the league who feel that James’ shadow looms too large and that the impatience the Lakers are already showing with their four-year plan could erode their sales pitch. They will always be the Lakers, which carries weight, even if Leonard promptly shut down questions about any Laker fandom in his childhood. (He was an Allen Iverson fan, which could point to a willingness to go against the grain and be his own person. Or, you know, it could point to very little, because it’s just fandom. Leonard is not the type to tip his hand in any sort of way by answering gratuitous questions, or to answer them much at all.)
7 months ago via ESPN

Toronto’s sales pitch will extend off the court, as well. On opening night in Toronto, Leonard was introduced last to a massive ovation from the fans inside Scotiabank Arena — the kind that will be commonplace over the next several months, as the rabid Raptors fan base tries to will him into making the decision it hopes he will. And with the ability to offer him unfettered access to one of the big cities in North America from a marketing standpoint — not to mention an entire country — Toronto hopes to convince Leonard there’s plenty to be gained financially from sticking around. Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster lead what has proven to be an adept, flexible front office that not only pulled off the Leonard trade to begin with, but has also stocked Toronto’s roster with young talent that should allow the Raptors to remain a factor atop the East for years to come. When next summer rolls around, there’s little doubt they will present Leonard with a plan for how exactly they expect to do that.

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.

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.”
More HoopsHype Rumors
May 19, 2019 | 4:05 pm EDT Update
Brian Seltzer: 76ers announce participants for second predraft workout, which will be held tomorrow am at Training Complex: Ky Bowman (Boston College) Tookie Brown (Georgia Southern) Zylan Cheatham (Arizona State) Terance Mann (Florida State) Marial Shayok (Iowa State) Max Strus (DePaul)
Storyline: Draft Workouts