(Bleacher Report) – NBA executives reportedly believe the Los Angeles Clippers hold an edge over the Los Angeles Lakers in the race to land Toronto Raptors superstar forward Kawhi Leonard during the 2019 free-agency period.
Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com surveyed a number of league executives, who gave the Clippers the edge since Leonard would be able to “have control of his own team” as compared to playing second fiddle to LeBron James with the Lakers.
The San Antonio Spurs traded Leonard to the Raptors in July with one guaranteed season left on his five-year, $94.3 million contract. He can utilize a player option in the deal to become a free agent at season’s end, and speculation has frequently linked the Los Angeles native with a return to L.A.
Just like with Pelicans fans and Anthony Davis, I feel for Raptors fans. They just brought in a guy who is arguably the best overall player in the franchise’s history, they are off to a fantastic start to the season with guys playing the best basketball of their careers, and even still fans can’t just sit back and enjoy the show. Instead, they have to worry about surveys and sources and polls and rumors all surrounding Kawhi Leonard and what he’s going to do this summer. That has to be pretty annoying that the focus is on that stuff instead of what we’re seeing on the court, but welcome to the NBA in 2018.
It all feels like a bizarro world to me, that a player of Kawhi’s caliber would choose THE CLIPPERS as his next destination. I know he’s from LA, and I know he had this to say about being a Lakers fan
“No, I wasn’t, I wasn’t at all,” Leonard said. “My family was, but I wasn’t.”
Young Leonard was cheering for another cornrow-rocking superstar.
“I liked Allen Iverson,” he said of the Philadelphia 76ers guard. “I was an A.I. fan, so I didn’t like the Lakers.”
(tough burn for PHI, who ya know should have traded for him this summer)
but it just feels weird that someone would knowingly make the choice to join a franchise as cursed as the Clippers. Now when you’re a player of Kawhi’s caliber, obviously you feel that you can change that narrative. The Clippers are slated to have around $48M in cap space this summer, so they should definitely be a player for what is expected to be a loaded free agent class. I do have some questions as to the fit with Kawhi, not because of his talent but because of the position he plays. Would this mean they are moving on from Tobias Harris since Gallo plays SF and is currently under contract? Or do they move him to the four, have Harris at the 3 and Kawhi at the SG spot? What does that mean for Avery Bradley, does he move to the bench when they already have four SGs on this roster? Obviously you move people around if it gets you Kawhi, but I’d be interested to hear someone explain why they are the preferred destination. Who knows, maybe they don’t bring back Harris and sign Butler/Kawhi and figure it out later, then it makes more sense.
The Clippers are interesting because you can’t really evaluate this scenario based on what we are seeing from them this season. They’re feisty, but I wouldn’t exactly say they are close to being contenders. You sell Kawhi on what they could be rather than what’s already there, and you play the whole schtick how it would be his team etc. But here’s the thing, doesn’t he have that already in TOR? When that trade first happened I was with the rest of the internet thinking there was no way Kawhi was going to stay since he didn’t include the Raptors on his list of teams. But how can you watch this team play and think the better decision would be to go to the harder conference with unknown talent? Pretty sure he’d have to give up money to do so as well, which seems silly.
To me that’s why this TOR start is so important, and why this may be the biggest pressure filled season in franchise history. In years past it was all about proving that things were different, and ultimately they weren’t so they blew it up to some degree. This year it changes now that LeBron is gone and they are essentially auditioning for Kawhi to stay around. Everything we’ve seen so far would suggest he’d be crazy to leave the situation he’s in right now as the Raptors look like a real threat. It’s even crazier to think that it’ll be to go to the goddamn Clippers on top of everything.
Sadly, this story isn’t going away no matter how many games the Raptors win or how good they look as a unit. That would annoy the shit out of me as a Raptors fan because what is their situation if he does bolt? Where does that leave this team in terms of the East/contending for a Finals appearance? They rook the risk and shot their shot by bringing in Kawhi in, and not even a 9-1 start can get the rumors from stopping. Even though that’s the world we now live in, that would get old for me real quick if I was a fan of this team.