Next season, Kawhi Leonard will become a free agent, which means any of the Los Angeles teams will have a chance to recruit the 2014 NBA Finals MVP again. Nevertheless, the Toronto Raptors have the whole 2018-2019 season to try to convince him to stay in the Canadian city.
This offseason, Leonard starred the trade of the summer. Raptors acquired the star and Danny Green from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and 2019 first-round pick. Even though Toronto was named as the winner in this deal, it was a big gamble on their part, since the former Spurs player will become a free agent next season and there are reports of Leonard not to want to play for the Canadian team.
Since the moment the trade became official, a lot of rumors came out about Leonard not wanting to play for the Raptors. Chris Haynes of ESPN.com first reported that the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year had “no desire to play in Toronto" and Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported that Leonard was willing to sit out the entire season "if necessary."
Although Leonard deciding not to play this season sounds really unlikely, this means that once he becomes a free agent next summer, he could leave Toronto, go back to California— where he is originally from—and play for the Clippers or Lakers. Before the deal with the Raptors went down, Leonard demanded the Spurs trade him to either of those teams; however, this did not happen since none of the offers from the L.A. franchises convinced the Texas team.
If the 2014 NBA champion indeed decides to leave Toronto, he could join the Clippers—which is a team in a rebuilding process— and become their star player. If he chooses to go to the Lakers, he will team up with LeBron James, which it could be either really appealing for an NBA player or quite the opposite. This offseason when Leonard’s future was still uncertain, the Back to Back podcast said that the new Raptor wanted to go to the Clippers because he didn’t want to go to the Lakers and be second fiddle to James. The Brooklyn Nets are another team who has been considered as a probable destination for the 27-year-old player, mainly due to his good relationship with general manager Sean Marks and the cap space they will have in 2019.
And the options are not limited to these three teams, in this NBA new era anything can happen, even more, when you add to the equation that players like Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving will become free agents next season as well. Leonard could decide to team up with any of these players and go to any team in the league and be strong playoff contenders.
Nevertheless, as we already saw with Paul George, he could fall in love with Toronto and stay with them — they are strong contenders to be east conference champions after all. Moreover, since the Raptors own his “Bird Rights” they would be able to offer him a better deal next year than any other team.