In a few months, Kawhi Leonard will hit the free agent market.
When a player of his caliber becomes available, it generally becomes a feeding frenzy of visits and recruitment pitches from around the league.
Leonard fittingly has saved us the drama and speculation and seems to have narrowed his list down to two teams according to NBA execs.
The popular opinion among league executives six months before Leonard makes his decision is that he’ll choose between the Raptors and the Clippers. If it comes down to those two teams, the chance for Leonard to come home and to stay away from snow could be the Clippers’ strongest argument.
Warm temperatures and familiar surroundings can be hard to compete with, but the Raptors have more than a reasonable chance to do just that.
The team has played extremely well and Leonard is having an MVP-level season. The Clippers offer a roster of battle-tested veterans that are tailor-made to accept two max level superstars.
So what should Kawhi do? What will he do?
Stay In Toronto
Why this will happen:
The Raptors are 1st in the Eastern Conference. Barring injury, they should remain locked with the Milwaukee Bucks in contention for the No. 1 seed. The East is up for grabs with LeBron’s relocation out West and the Celtics appearing to be one tier lower than what most people thought to begin the season.
The Philadelphia 76ers are flirting with being stuck in the dreaded “good, but not great” zone and are already dealing with managing Jimmy Butler’s abrasive personality.
Toronto is firmly in position to be favored to make at least a Conference Finals appearance every year that this roster stays intact.
VIDEO: KD, Kawhi go off in epic battle in Toronto. https://t.co/xVt5enE5Kn
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) November 30, 2018
The roster is deep and elite defensively. Toronto boasts a 6th Man of the Year candidate in Fred VanVleet and a Most Improved Player candidate in Pascal Siakim.
It is hard to imagine Kawhi leaving if the Raptors are able to be right on the verge of or make the NBA Finals.
Going out West would place Kawhi in a bloodbath of a conference that contains more elite players and much stiffer competition than the East. The easier road to multiple Finals appearances is in Toronto.
Worst Case Scenario:
The Raptors suffer an injury that derails their playoff chances or can’t get over their well-documented playoff demons when it matters. This season cannot end with an early exit and a disappearing act from Kyle Lowry. It’s Conference Finals or bust for Toronto.
Hello Los Angeles
Why this will happen:
It doesn’t snow in LA baby! Kawhi has long expressed his desire to play at home and has been linked to the Clippers since the summer time.
Los Angeles offers more than just a nostalgic return home and beautiful weather. This team is winning and has the funds to sign two max level players next season. If Kawhi wants to play with another superstar (maybe like…Kevin Durant?) this is the best opportunity to do so.
The Clippers are fourth in the Western Conference and even without a second superstar, adding Kawhi to the roster will have them right in the thick of things in the West.
Jerry West is a wizard and has built a winning culture in Los Angeles after being the architect of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty and playing a key role in the Lakers’ runs in the 1980s and 2000s.
Owner Steve Balmer has a rare passion and commitment to winning at all costs and Doc Rivers is a future Hall of Fame coach that gets the most out of every player on the roster. The Clippers now have one of the best front offices in the NBA.
By trading Blake Griffin and letting DeAndre Jordan walk, Los Angeles has freed a ton of cap space and has a roster full of manageable, high-value contracts.
Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Shai Gilgeous Alexander are all playing very well and are under contract for next season.
Tobias Harris will be the interesting decision to make at season’s end. He has performed well enough this season to command a good chunk of change in the offseason and would instantly make any team’s roster better upon arrival.
Los Angeles offers Kawhi a chance to play at home for another legendary coach backed by an elite front office amongst a roster of winners in 70-degree weather. It is hard to walk away from that.
Worst Case Scenario:
The Raptors surge through the East and make the NBA Finals. Toronto’s success gives Kawhi no incentive to try his luck elsewhere and signs a long-term deal.
The Team No One Is Talking About:
This is a shot in the dark but a realistic one. How is no one talking about the Brooklyn Nets? Brooklyn also will have the cap space in 2019 to sign two max level players and already have players that will be awesome complimentary pieces to Leonard and another running mate.
🎙️ @AtlanticFiles Ep. 111: Assessing the Nets' playoff hopes 🎙️
🏀 BKY is 7-3 in their last 10 & is knocking on the 8th seeds door 🏀
🏀 D'Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie leading Nets' surge 🏀
🤔 Did LeBron REALLY tamper with his AD comments? 🤔https://t.co/IfnqeOracv
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) January 2, 2019
Kawhi would have the opportunity to be the face of the first championship level roster since the Nets left New Jersey in 2012.
Caris Levert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and D’Angelo Russell are all young, high-upside assets that, along with Leonard, can form the foundation of a new super team.
Kawhi would get to stay in the East and maintain a smoother road to a deep playoff run in a city that has been starving for basketball success.
There is winning and then there is winning in New York City. The Nets are by no means frontrunners but crazier things have happened.
The league will be paying close attention to every Raptors game seeking clarity from a player who’s movements will affect the entire NBA landscape.
Kawhi has made it clear that winning takes precendence over everything. If that’s the case he can’t really go wrong this summer.