Kawhi Leonard successfully piloted the Raptors to an NBA Title this year, but he’s going to test free agency before committing his future to Toronto.
Raptors fans have been basking in the glow of an NBA title for weeks, but reality is set to come crashing down in a big way. Kawhi Leonard’s decision to opt out of his current contract with Toronto and test free agency is going to serve as a big test for the entire organization and its passionate fan base.
Leonard is set to decline his $21.3 million player option for the 2019-20 season and become an unrestricted free agent. Expect every franchise with max space available under the salary cap to place a call to Leonard’s representatives once free agency officially begins.
The good news for the Raptors is that none of this was unexpected. From a financial standpoint, this opens up the potential for Leonard to make a lot more money. If he elects to stay with the Raptors, he could ink a five-year, $190 super max contract. That isn’t the most likely outcome with Leonard’s free agency, but it does give Toronto a unique advantage in the race to retain the superstar wing.
At the moment, the Raptors are still considered to be the favorite to re-sign Leonard. Winning a championship absolutely bolstered their position. Most of Toronto’s corps is set to return next season and the team will certainly be among the favorites to win another ring next season.
The primary competition appears to come in the form of the Los Angeles Clippers. Leonard has long been rumored to have a desire to live and work in LA. The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but not much else. In sharp contrast, the Clippers have an intriguing young corps and significant cap space. It’s possible they can hand Leonard a max contract and maneuver to sign another max player to go along with him.
At the very least, expect Leonard to fully explore his options. The Raptors can’t afford to take his free agency for granted. They need to court him like he’d never spent a single moment in their building. Losing him wouldn’t rob them of their championship memories from this season, but it would likely strip them of any realistic chance to repeat in 2019-20.