Kawhi Leonard delivered a win in his regular season debut with his new team, but chances are he’ll soon leave them for the Los Angeles Clippers, in the eyes of venerable ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
“What the Clippers are doing right now is very below the radar,” Wojnarowski said on his podcast, “The Woj Pod.” “What they’ve done to put themselves in position, they didn’t gut themselves and they’re not tanking. They’re going to put a competitive team on the floor. They have, I think right now with Kawhi Leonard, they have a better than not chance of getting him.”
Wojnarowski reported in September that the Clippers were “emerging as a front-runner for Kawhi Leonard when Toronto’s All-NBA forward becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.” But the veteran reporter’s wording this morning seems to indicate a greater than 50 percent likelihood that Leonard leaves Toronto for LA’s other team.
In both the original report and his Thursday-morning podcast, Wojnarowski reported that the Clippers appealed to Butler because, with room for two max contracts on their cap sheet this coming summer, they’d be able to land him a star teammate.
Wojnarowski wrote in September:
After registering a trade request with the Minnesota Timberwolves, All-Star Jimmy Butler is most interested in pursuing a future with the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN.
Butler’s ability to partner on the Clippers with a second star player in a deep summer free-agency market holds a strong appeal to Butler, league sources said.
Paul George’s Advice to Kawhi Leonard
This offseason, the Toronto Raptors forward got some advice from his friend Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a fellow former Southern California native who hoped to play there — with the Lakers, in George’s case — but was eventually swayed to re-sign with the team who traded for him a year before free agency.
“Actually me and Kawhi are pretty close. Actually during the summer we hung out and kind of talked and got together a little bit. And we did talk a little bit on that,” George said of Leonard’s free agency at his team’s media day. “At the end of the day, just telling him to just be open. We’re both Southern Cal guys, and we both wanted to come home and play home, play for the city. But obviously my situation came up and I was happy with it. Just told him to be open about it, be open about the situation and just give wherever he goes — at that time we didn’t know where he was going. I told him just give wherever you’re going, give them your everything, and decide from there.”
Leonard Leads in Raptors Victory
Toronto fans gave Leonard a warm reception before his first real-game action with the Raptors.
Leonard, traded by the San Antonio Spurs this offseason after an injury-plagued 2017-18, returned the favor with a 24-point, 13-rebound performance in a 116-104 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I felt good,” Leonard after the win, according to the Toronto Star. “I’m happy we came out and got a win, and I came out of the game healthy, so it’s a win-win for me.
“It’s still early. It’s only the first game. We had a lot of mistakes on the defensive end that we can correct. Our offense was also stagnant sometimes tonight. But our skill level and focus and us playing very hard tonight got us the win.”