The 2018 NBA offseason was headlined by a few big topics, but one headliner was the trade demands of Kawhi Leonard. The former San Antonio Spurs star made it known he wanted out of town, and while it took a bit of time to happen, he was eventually dealt to the Toronto Raptors.
Leonard seems to be happy with the Raptors, but it’s still very early on. While he’s expected to lead the way in Toronto throughout the 2018-19 NBA season, his future beyond this year remains up in the air. And there’s more to consider when factoring in that the 27-year-old could opt out of his current contract and become a free agent after this year. If that’s the case and the Raptors believe they’ll lose him in next offseason, he could be dealt ahead of the trade deadline.
Realistically, the Raptors are more likely than not to hold Leonard regardless of the situation and do their all to re-sign him. But this hasn’t stopped trade rumors from swirling, so we’re going to break down some of the ones which stand out while looking into the latest and most interesting updates.
Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers?
Back in September, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski stated the Los Angeles Clippers were “emerging as a front-runner” for Leonard if he hits free agency. But the real fun didn’t begin until the latest episode of The Woj Pod, in which he doubled down on that with a strong comment.
“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.”
This would obviously appeal to Leonard due to the fact that he’s made it known he’d love to return to Los Angeles. When the original trade rumors came out, the Lakers and Clippers were among the top-two potential landing spots he reportedly had interest in.
The Clippers could also be an ideal fit due to the fact that they’ll have the money to afford a second star to pair up with the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Whether or not the Raptors would openly deal him to the Clippers is a big question mark, but they could get a solid return in a deal if it were to come to that.
The Lakers Fun May Never End
This has been one of the most painful topics to follow since there’s so much back and forth. After the idea of Leonard teaming up with LeBron James almost seemed too good to be true, it now seems the Lakers may have some catching up to do.
As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported back in September (h/t Farbod Esnaashari), the Lakers were No. 3 on Leonard’s list behind the Clippers and Raptors at the time.
Unfortunately for Lakers fans, that’s not even the most recent update which hurt their chances. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that there are “whispers” that both Leonard and Jimmy Butler don’t want to play with James. There’s some reason to believe this to be true, as the two players surely want to continue building their own legacies. Whether or not LeBron and Kawhi could link up in the future is unknown, but a trade would be worth monitoring.
Of any team capable of swinging a deal for Leonard, the Lakers have the most firepower. The Raptors may be wise to strongly consider this if the team truly feels they won’t sign their new forward longterm.
Along with the Clippers and Lakers, there’s no question Leonard would have a big market if made available via trade. The Philadelphia 76ers were in the mix for the All-Star during the offseason so they could be a team to monitor.
Kawhi Leonard Not Thinking Beyond 2018-19 Season
At least for this season, Leonard finds himself happy with the Raptors. During the team’s media day, the star told reporters that he wants to be in Toronto, but that he’s not looking beyond this year, courtesy of ESPN.
“I want to play here,” Leonard said. “I came in with an open mind. I want to do great things … focus on this year. If you’re looking toward the future, you’re going to trip over the present.”
Kawhi wouldn’t offer much up aside from that on his future, aside from stating that he wants to “play a long, healthy career” and “be happy wherever I land.” The Raptors forward has put together a strong start to the season with his new team, averaging 26.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game through his first five games.