He may not be better than Kobe (as one talk show host was quick to declare), but Kawhi Leonard is certainly one of the best players in the current NBA and his historic run in these Playoffs has only furthered that status. As of Wednesday morning, Kawhi is averaging 31.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 3.5 APG, and he’s doing that all while shooting over 57 percent from the floor and remaining the best defender on the court at any time.
So things are great in Toronto, right? Up 3-2 in their series, their star player is getting hot at just the right time, the whole team contributing. Except their star player may only have a handful of games left with the team: this season, Leonard is set to become a free agent, and he will surely command a max contract from a number of bidders looking to grab possibly the best two-way player in the game today.
This brings to question the uncomfortable reality looming over the Raptors: is Kawhi going to bolt in free agency after playing only one year, leaving Toronto devastated? The answer might actually be no.
The top suitors for Kawhi right now are Toronto (of course), the Los Angeles Clippers AND Lakers, and the Brooklyn Nets. Why not break down each destination and what it would mean for Kawhi?
Los Angeles Clippers
Here you find the scrapiest team in the NBA, but they have a good deal of talent too. There are multiple youngsters in the wings waiting to take over, and head coach Doc Rivers has been a mainstay in winning basketball for over a decade now. Furthermore, they play in Los Angeles, quite possibly the most attractive city (to outsiders) in the U.S. Were Kawhi to sign here, he would immediately vault them into contention (rather than a fringe team), and they could climb as high as the four seed next season. The only question that really matters for any Western Conference team though: could they compete with the Warriors? Well, the Clips already rode the Dubs hard this season, and adding a guy like Leonard certainly would not hurt. They could definitely grab a few games, but winning a best-of-seven series would still be very difficult.
Los Angeles Lakers
Am I the only one that sees how ridiculous this is? Probably not, because it’s rather ridiculous. The Lakers already have a guy who plays Leonard’s position, and with head coaching and front office turmoil this organization is far from steady. Kawhi is definitely a number one option, so playing with LeBron would make no sense for him at all.
They’re really only listed here because they might have two max-contract slots available this offseason, but they did play their way into relevancy this season (and Playoffs). Kawhi would actually fit into the starting rotation, but this just doesn't seem to be his kind of team, one where youngsters rule over veterans and offense is a clear priority. It might be fun, but it seems kind of like a fairy tale at this point.
Ah, here we are. They have the advantage of already possessing Kawhi, though that might turn into a disadvantage if they don't go as deep in the Playoffs as The Claw may be hoping for. It would seem that their Playoff run here will have major effects on Kawhi’s decision to stay or not, so it’s imperative they keep winning (which Leonard has done a good job of making sure of so far). He fits in here perfectly, and as evidence by the regular and postseason he plays beautifully with the rest of these guys. To me it looks to be the best fit, but will he be willing to stay up North for a team that continues to come up short in the Playoffs? Or will a Finals appearance make the decision for him…