The Kawhi Leonard saga reached a momentary climax on Wednesday when he was traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan. Even with the trade, however, the situation is far from over.
Leonard still wants to be in Los Angeles, as his camp made abundantly clear in leaks as trade negotiations were underway early Wednesday morning. While the disgruntled star is expected to be “professional” and report to the Raptors, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, it’s clearly a huge possibility that he could end up being a one year rental.
While Leonard gets assimilated to his new team, it appears as though the former Spurs star is already looking to the future. According to Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star (on the Back to Back Podcast), Leonard has already begun planning ahead for 2019 when he is eligible to become a free agent (h/t Anthony Irwin of Silver Screen and Roll):
“One thing I was told last night is that Kawhi Leonard has already been planning out his free agency for next year and he’s already been in contact with other star players in the league, saying, ‘hey, where might you want to play with me? What are we looking at?’
And it wasn’t just L.A. he was talking about. Brooklyn was maybe somewhere that’ll have a ton of cap space. That’s a possibility.”
Obviously, Leonard could team up with stars nearly anywhere. There will be far more teams with cap space next summer. The Raptors could be willing to toss in more assets to bring in another star via trade if they believe Leonard would be open to committing long term. There will be several notable free agents in 2019 including Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.
But the Lakers should feel fairly confident about Leonard’s future. They already boast the biggest star in LeBron James and have the assets to trade for a third star while signing Leonard as an outright free agent if they wish.
The Lakers took a calculated risk in not trading for Leonard no matter how high the asking price was from the Spurs. It’s a risk that did not pay off with Paul George but the Lakers are in a different situation now and will hope that Leonard’s desires won’t change over the course of the season.