By Mark Strotman | | 4 mins
Kawhi Opts Out of Deal But Odds Say He’ll Stay in Toronto
Free agency doesn’t begin for another week but news is already heating up. And even though it was fully expected to happen, Kawhi Leonard’s decision to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Toronto Raptors makes him the biggest name on the market when free agency starts on June 30.
The report of Leonard’s decision to become a free agent also included news that the 27-year-old is “believed to be seriously considering” re-signing with the Raptors.
This has long been the NBA betting assumption, as 888Sport currently has the odds of Leonard returning to Toronto at -167. He’s just +133 to wind up playing elsewhere when the 2019-20 season begins.
Leonard, Raptors Could Make Run at Repeat
There was doubt that Leonard would want to stay in Toronto for the vast majority of last season. But winning changes everything, and after Leonard’s historic postseason run, capped off by NBA championship win over the Warriors, it’s difficult to see him leaving without seeing if his Raptors can repeat.
They’ll bring back all of their heavy hitters, and Leonard certainly looked like a guy embracing Toronto as home during the Raptors’ parade:
Kawhi gets MVP chants and shows off his hardware to kick off the parade. pic.twitter.com/Pp9KeAjN9o— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) June 17, 2019
Leonard might not be a guy who loves the spotlight, but there’s no doubt he’s appreciating all the love he’s receiving.
There’s also the case of money. Again, Leonard may not be a guy who cares all that much about it, but it’s a nice tiebreaker if it comes to that.
Only the Raptors may sign Leonard to a five-year max deal – other teams may only offer up to four-year deals – and Toronto can also offer the most money per season. Even if Leonard only wants a short-term deal, he’ll be able to get the most money by staying in Toronto.
The best opportunity to win, the most money and hero status. There’s a reason the Raptors are the NBA futures betting favorites and will be when he takes free agency meetings next week.
L.A. Teams Have Shot at Kawhi
Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes also reported that “the appeal of returning home to Southern California is enticing to” Leonard, who grew up in Los Angeles and went to San Diego State to play his college basketball.
It also happens that both Los Angeles teams – the Clippers and Lakers – will have significant cap space this summer. The Clippers have long been a contender for Leonard’s services – Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was fined for tampering last month while talking about Leonard on ESPN – and Leonard would make them instant championship contenders in the West.
If Leonard does leave the Raptors, it feels like the Clippers would be his landing spot. 888Sport listed the Clippers as +150 underdogs for his services. Fans are already getting in on the recruiting pitch, too.
Free agency around the corner? Must be billboard season in LA. pic.twitter.com/2MAVZ8Yvwx— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) June 24, 2019
There are also the Lakers. The appeal to go there, of course, is teaming up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They’d be the best trio in the NBA and the favorites to win the 2020 NBA title. Whereas going from the East to the West would have been a poor decision, injuries to Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have opened the door in the West.
The Lakers couldn’t give Leonard a max deal he obviously deserves, but apparently he’s still considering joining the 16-time champions.