Kawhi Leonard may be the subject of rampant rumors about his future, but his present with the Toronto Raptors has been excellent. He’s scored in double figures in each game of the Eastern Conference 1st Round series versus the Magic, including a 37-point outburst in a 111-82 rout in Game 2.
The former first-round pick and Spurs star came to Toronto last offseason, and made another All-Star Game with 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
He has at least 1 more year on a 5-year, $94.3 million contract he originally signed with San Antonio. This season for the Raptors, he earned $20.1 million in annual salary with a $3 million trade kicker. He’s set for at least $21 million next year, depending on if he gets another kicker in trade this summer.
Let’s take a look at the latest onslaught of rumors regarding his future destinations.
Kawhi Leonard Trade Rumors
During a segment about Leonard on ESPN’s First Take on Friday, Stephen A. Smith addressed Leonard’s upcoming free agency and specifically the Lakers. In short, he believes the 27-year-old is more likely to wind up as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers than teaming up with James.
“This is where we get into LeBron and Kawhi Leonard potential of that being an MJ-Scottie Pippen thing. That’s what people have been talking about … Here’s the deal – ain’t no way in hell that’s going to be the case.” Smith said.
After his strong statement on Leonard’s future, he proceeds to explain why the two-time All-NBA forward isn’t an ideal fit with the Lakers.
“If you’re Kawhi Leonard, you don’t want to play with LeBron. No matter how phenomenal that appears to be. Here’s why, because LeBron is ball dominant when he’s at his best. That ain’t what Kawhi wants, in my opinion. So I would be surprised if Kawhi ended up with the Lakers instead of the Clippers, for that reason.”
This jives with the same scuttlebutt Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard is hearing, as his says the percentages are pointing towards the Clippers.
“If I had to break it down on where I think Kawhi will go percentage-wise,” he said on Undisputed on Friday, “10 percent he goes to the Lakers…what the Clippers have right now is (that) they’re so much better run as an organization than the Lakers. Everybody sees it.
“They’ve recruited Kawhi all year. They have people going to the games. ‘Hey, we’re just letting you know we’re here Kawhi!’ I don’t think it’s anything against LeBron, they’re friendly…but the Lakers are in such disarray.”
An alternate viewpoint is the take I mentioned from Fox Sports’ Nick Wright, who was talking to Chris Carter about how the Lakers may have a chance if they replace Magic Johnson as president with Raptors president Masai Ujiri.
“The day Magic quit, the day after on this show, I started saying Masai Ujiri’s name,” Wright said. “It’s not because I had some reports or some insight. It’s because it just made too much sense for a guy who does like the spotlight…going to LA, all the things they’ve done for Kawhi, Masai’s the one who put them in place.”
With the Raptors pushing ahead in this NBA Playoffs, the Lakers will have to wait to bring Ujiri to Los Angeles. Additionally, the more successful Toronto is, the possibility the Raptors are able to convince Leonard to stay grows.
The Clippers, based on reporting and speculation, seem to be the favorite. The Raptors have a chance with a deep playoff run, while the Lakers need to fix themselves in the front office to get back in the sweepstakes.