It has been about a year since the first inklings of Kawhi Leonard wanting to leave the San Antonio Spurs started churning the rumor mill. The former defensive player of the year reportedly wanted to be in Southern California, preferably with the Lakers, but was eventually traded to the Toronto Raptors.
Since then, there has not been much reporting on Leonard’s impending free agency. The consensus has seemingly shifted towards the forward preferring the Clippers over the Lakers due to a belief that he would not want to play with LeBron James but there has not been much concrete evidence to suggest that.
Some of the few bits and rumors of news, however, seem to favor the Raptors in the Leonard sweepstakes as Josh Lewenberg of TSN reports that the organization has a strong belief they can retain their star forward:
Behind the scenes, many Toronto Raptors officials have become increasingly confident in the team’s chances of re-signing Kawhi Leonard 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.
There’s a few important bits to this, but first it’s crucial to note that Lewenberg is a Raptors beat writer and is close to the organization. As his wording indicates, his sources come from within the franchise, not within Leonard’s camp.
As for the actual report, it’s not surprising that the Raptors would feel confident. They are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and have been able to win despite a lot of missed games between Leonard and Kyle Lowry. If they have legitimate success in the playoffs, that’ll be just another chip to add to their recruiting stockpile.
Additionally, Leonard has praised the organization for their handling of his rest and health, something that ultimately had led to his exit from San Antonio. That seems to be very important to him.
All that said, it’s still very early in the process to know what Leonard will prioritize. The Raptors can offer the most money. The Clippers can offer a playoff team with two max slots. The Lakers offer the opportunity to play next to James. Both LA teams give him the chance to play close to home.
The Raptors have reason to be confident and that belief is significant. The Thunder, for example, were reported to have the same sort of belief that they could re-sign George last year despite all the signs pointing to his desire to play for the Lakers.
Ultimately, with someone like Leonard who holds his cards close to his chest, we may not know what he values and what his decision will be until it happens.