The NBA free agent pool continues to shrink as more and more players find their teams, sign their contracts and dutifully leak the details. Technically, signings won’t be announced until Saturday, but everyone gets the news as soon as the players and teams reach an agreement in principle and blab the news to Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania and the rest of the NBA media cognoscenti.
One free agent whose name has been curiously absent from the sieve so far? Kawhi Leonard, NBA Finals MVP, who has hardly breathed a word about his intentions so far.
This hasn’t stopped the sports pundits from reporting what, it should be strongly emphasized, is just speculation about the Toronto Raptors star.
That disclaimer out of the way, Cris Carter, the NFL Hall of Famer and Fox Sports host, used to employ the services of Leonard’s agent during his playing days and tweeted Tuesday that Leonard’s shortlist is only three teams long — two in Los Angeles and one whose uniform he wore while winning that Finals trophy.
Kawhi update: I’ve just been informed Kawhi has not made a decision. To think the Lakers are ahead of the Clippers or the Raptors would be wrong #KawhiUpdate
— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) July 2, 2019
Carter did, however, report on FS1 that Leonard has only begun the process of meeting with teams Monday and seems to be in no hurry to make a decision on any contract he has been or will be offered.
Early reports connected Leonard to the Clippers, but the Lakers — and their power duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis — have been ardent suitors.
Kendrick Perkins, formerly a player for the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, seems to believe Leonard will end up in the purple and gold of the City of Angels’ marquee franchise:
Just heard that Kawhi is meeting with the Clippers tonight but the Lakers hold the upper hand, unless Doc work his Magic tonight it’s looking very strong that Kawhi will be in Purple and Gold!!!
— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) July 2, 2019
Of course, if Leonard cares most about winning, his best bet would be to stay in Toronto.
The Lakers traded away their entire roster and have an aging James who played only 55 games in 2018-19 for a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Clippers appear to have bowed out in the first round and don’t have the marquee star power to try and pair with Leonard for a title run.
What we do know, at least according to reports, is that Leonard is set to meet with both Tinseltown squads before the incumbent Toronto gets the last chance to make a pitch to persuade one of only three men in NBA history to win Finals MVP with two different teams — James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the other two — not to try and win that honor with a third franchise.
The Raptors do hold an ace in the hole insofar as under the collective bargaining agreement, since Leonard is their own player, they can offer him five years and $190 million, while the Lakers and Clippers would be limited to four years and $141 million.
That five-year “supermax” deal is how the Golden State Warriors reportedly retained Klay Thompson’s services rather than let anyone else bid for him.
Leonard is going to have to weigh his decision carefully, since all three teams offer him an attractive option professionally and personally.
Playing in LA means playing in America’s second-largest media market either for a marquee franchise with two of the best players in the league already on the roster or for the city’s underdog squad, where Leonard would be the undisputed star and face of the franchise.
In addition, Leonard was born in Riverside, California, and played his college ball at San Diego State. He has ties to Southern California that put both Los Angeles teams in the role of hometown team, allowing him to spend the bulk of the regular season closer to his family and friends.
But staying in Toronto means getting more money — almost $50 million more — and showing not just the Raptors but the entire NBA that playing for a winner is his top priority.
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