The Toronto Raptors made their biggest statement this season when they beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena without Kawhi Leonard. For the first time ever the Raptors are true title contenders and I expect them to make the Finals and fight the Warriors in a heavily contested series.
If the Raptors do reach the Finals and win it all then they can be pretty sure that their best player Kawhi Leonard won’t leave them in free agency this summer. Toronto is Kawhi’s team, he’s only 27 and he could establish himself as their best ever player if he stays long-term.
Nothing is guaranteed though. If the Raptors fail to make the Finals or lose in them then Kawhi could leave for a bigger market in 7-8 months time. Leonard is a top 5 player in the NBA and it’s a best 2-way player. He will have a tonne of offers once next summer rolls around.
One team that will fight tooth and nail to get him are the LA Clippers. They only have around $60 million on the books for next season and so have enough cap space to sign 2 max offers. Kawhi is 1 target, the other is Kevin Durant.
According to one NBA insider, they’re giving everything they have to no come out of this upcoming free-agency empty-handed.
“The Clippers, it seems, closely watch every Raptors and Warriors game this season,” writes ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Even though they are having a terrific season of their own — experiencing the rare joy of expectation-free success in the NBA — the Clippers are rather transparently obsessed with chasing Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant in free agency next summer. It’s clear from their books. They’ve cleared a path to open two max salary slots. It’s clear through their actions. They’ve been treating the two like college recruits and sending executives just to watch numerous Warriors and Raptors games so they’re visible.”
Durant will be a free agent next summer as he looks to win 3 titles in a row as well as 3 Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors. Despite the Dubs being so good, this is likely their last season together as a unit as locker room tension increases and contracts expire. The Warriors don’t have enough money to keep their stars together; at least 1 player has to go and Durant could be that guy.
Durant has solidified himself as a top 15 player of all time in my eyes but if he wants to crack the top 10 he needs to win a title away from the Warriors. Going to the Clippers would give him that chance and a huge contract to satisfy him financially.
If Kevin Durant is mission impossible for the LA Clippers, Kawhi Leonard will be a real target.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kawhi wants to play in LA:
“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski via Real GM. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”
The Clippers have been making some loud moves recently which heavily suggest they will be competing hard for Durant and Kawhi; they hired Jerry West who is known for being able to make a great sales pitch, they have cleared their books to have enough cap space and they’ve been sending executives to lots of Raptors and Warriors games to make their presence known.
This is the unreal dream for the LA Clippers at this moment, but if they can land Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kevin Durant will be a step closer to sign for them. Don’t be surprised if next summer the Clippers sign both players and launch another dynasty to rock the NBA.