Would a championship ring be enough? How about an appearance in the NBA Finals?
What is it that the Toronto Raptors need to do to convince Kawhi Leonard to sign a long-term deal and continue playing north of the border?
Unless you are Leonard himself or one of the few in his tight-knit circle, it’s impossible to know that answer for sure.
Some might say that Kawhi has already made his decision and will be heading to La La Land once the calendar turns to July. Others might tell you it depends on how things play out in the playoffs.
After letting game one of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks slip away late in the fourth quarter, Toronto needs to find a way to even up the series on Friday night.
If Kawhi doesn’t dominate and the role players don’t step up, these could be the final few games we see “The Klaw” playing basketball in a Raptors uniform.
Betting on Who Signs Kawhi Leonard This Summer
If you glance at the odds below, you’ll see that this may end up being more than just a two-horse race.
Despite him currently playing in Toronto, the NBA betting sites seem confident enough that LA is in the lead to land Leonard this summer. And despite reports that Kawhi may not want to share the limelight with LeBron James, the Purple and Gold will be in the mix until Leonard officially removes his name from the free agent market.
It’s less likely we see the Klaw suiting up for the Nets or the Knicks, but hey, with all that open cap space, who knows what could transpire?
I’ll run through each of the five teams on the betting sheet and examine how authentic their chances of signing Kawhi really are.
Is Kawhi’s Heart Set on Joining the Clippers?
Well, according to reports from clutchpoints.com, there is a strong feeling that the Clippers are in the driver’s seat to sign Kawhi Leonard this summer. We know the interest level from the Clips is seemingly off the charts, as multiple front office executives have been scattered at plenty of “Raptors games” throughout the season.
We also know that the Clips have enough cap space to sign two players to max deals, not to mention Kawhi was born and raised in Los Angeles and spends his summers in SoCal. Speaking of spending his summers in Southern California, Leonard’s ties to the region run much deeper than just being named “California Mr. Basketball” as a senior at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside.
The former San Diego State Aztec recently purchased a home for more than $13 million in Rancho Santa Fe, an affluent community located about 25 miles north of Montezuma Mesa.
Kawhi doesn’t care about the “Hollywood hoopla,” nor does he care about being the center of attention in the LA market. However, the sunny weather and being close to his family can’t be taken lightly.
Add it all up, and it’s almost the perfect storm for the Clippers to be able to swoop in and lure Leonard away from Toronto. Doc Rivers is an established head coach, Steve Ballmer has deeper pockets than any owner in the league, and last time I checked, LA probably wouldn’t be the worst place to live if you’re making millions and millions of dollars.
What Can Toronto Do to Sway Leonard’s Decision?
Lots of things, potentially.
First and foremost, it’d be awfully hard for Kawhi to turn his back on his teammates in Toronto if they are able to win the NBA Finals next month. Getting past Milwaukee is going to be an immensely difficult task, and a victory in that series could be enough to convince Kawhi to stay with the Raptors.
But let’s say that Toronto bows out of this round. What kind of an impact would that have?
Should the Bucks bring out the broom and sweep the Raptors in resounding fashion, then it’s unlikely that Leonard returns. But what if Toronto loses a closely contested game seven in Cream City, and Kawhi plays lights-out. Would that be enough?
Raptors president Masai Ujiri can offer more than $200 million to Kawhi — a significant chunk more than any other suitors could afford. Given how little Leonard appears to care about materialistic things, these added funds may not even come into play when he’s making his final decision.
In the end, Kawhi may just prefer to play basketball in Los Angeles. With that being said, Toronto could do themselves a big favor by advancing to the NBA Finals and making some noise when they get there.
What Are the Chances Kawhi Becomes a Laker?
I won’t say it’s between slim and none, but I’d call it no more than 10% or 15%.
Everything I said about Kawhi’s connection to Southern California still applies in this scenario, but it’s unclear whether or not the Klaw wants to play in the shadow of LeBron James.
Kevin Durant’s comments about not wanting to be in the “toxic environment” that unfortunately gets created whenever King James is involved might not resonate with Kawhi, but it’s certainly a storyline to follow. We already know the odds on where Kevin Durant will sign have been impacted because of that, and it’s likely it has influenced Leonard’s pricing as well.
LeBron has praised Kawhi time and time again, and I’m not sure there is a single player Bron Bron would rather team up with if he had his pick from the litter. Now it comes down to whether or not Leonard can see himself playing alongside.
Ironically enough, Frank Vogel has had his chance at coaching Kawhi before; he just let it slip through the cracks. The Lake Show’s new head coach was the lead man in Indiana back in 2011 when the Pacers decided to swap Leonard for George Hill on the night of the draft. Who knows — had the Pacers hung onto the sophomore from SDSU, Vogel might still be coaching the Pacers!
It’s too early to rule out the possibility of Vogel and Leonard being reunited this upcoming season, but it’s definitely on the outside looking in.
Will Brooklyn Come Calling?
Not if they extend D’Angelo Russell’s contract and sign Kevin Durant because then they’ll be out of money. Brooklyn is keen on re-signing their talented young point guard and bringing in an A-list free agent, but I haven’t heard much as far as Kawhi Leonard being that guy.
There’s no doubt that the Nets would be interested in adding Leonard to their core of young talent. A move that substantial would make them a contender in the East right away. But I’m getting the hunch that if Kawhi is to leave Toronto, it’ll be motivated by the urge to play in California.
Let’s pretend that GM Sean Marks misses out on Kevin Durant, and let’s hypothetically say that Kyrie Irving signs a deal with the Knicks. Brooklyn still can go after Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, not to mention pursue Kemba Walker or Khris Middleton.
I’m sure the Nets would love to get their hands on the soft-spoken 27-year-old. I’m just not so sure the feeling will be mutual.
Are the Knicks in Play?
It’s not that I don’t think Kawhi Leonard would welcome the added pressure that would come along with being the face of the New York Knicks franchise. Leonard is as cold-blooded as they come and has no problem carrying the burden on his shoulders.
Truthfully, I just don’t think he looks at the Knicks situation and views it as anything remotely as positive as some of the others I’ve highlighted in this post.
Seriously, New York was the worst team in all of the NBA this past year. And forget about their horrendous 17-65 record during the regular season. Their fan base is even more riled up about the fact that New York missed out on receiving the #1 pick in June’s draft, therefore extricating themselves from the Zion Williamson sweepstakes.
If the Knicks now start zeroing in on Kyrie, I’ll assume that’ll remove NY from the “Kawhi Leonard sweeps” as well. Leonard’s work ethic and attitude don’t really align with a “personality” like Kyrie Irving, and I don’t suspect that he’d want to deal with all of the baggage attached to the agitated Boston point guard.
I’m sure New York will wind up with a couple big names during the offseason. I just don’t expect that Kawhi will be one of them.
Kawhi Leonard Will Sign With…
Isn’t the writing nearly on the wall? Can’t the Clippers team store just start manufacturing the Kawhi Leonard jerseys already?
If the Raptors can rally and win this series against Milwaukee, I actually think they’ll defeat whoever emerges out of the Western Conference Finals, even if that means going up against a Warriors squad loaded with a healthy Kevin Durant. If that pans out, Lawrence Frank might not grab hold of the guy who he undoubtedly covets the most.
However, with Jerry West squarely in the picture and the man who will be leading the conversations to get Leonard on board, I like their chances of sealing the deal.
Summing It All Up
Keep your eyes peeled for what ensues between the Raptors and the Bucks because the outcome of that series will be the first indication of what’s to come next. Toronto wins — their chances of retaining Kawhi Leonard increase significantly.
If the Greek Freak handles business and sends Toronto home packing, look for Kawhi to get a head start on his move into his new SoCal digs.