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Report: The Race for Kawhi Leonard Is Down to Just 2 Teams

Ever since Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors last season, the question has hovered over him: “But where will he be playing next year?”

Leonard holds a player option for next season worth $21.3 million, per Basketball-Reference.com. But he proved that he’s an elite superstar this past season who’s worthy of a max contract.

Thus, Leonard probably will decline that player option and become a free agent.

The belief all along has been that he would return to his hometown of Los Angeles and join one of the two teams there.

When it comes to a fight between the Lakers and Clippers, the Lakers have historically won. They have the championships, the banners and the all-time greats, with Anthony Davis the latest superstar to don the purple and gold.

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The history of the Lakers also seemed to give them the edge in the Kawhi Leonard Sweepstakes. But Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said Leonard isn’t even considering the Lakers.

“The reality is Kawhi Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles, but it’s the Clippers, not the Lakers,” Wojnarowski said on Tuesday’s “Get Up.”

Do you think Kawhi Leonard will return to the Raptors next season?

“No. 1, they don’t have the money to sign him,” he said, “and 2, the idea of him being a third wheel on a team trying to create a superteam, that has not been Kawhi’s MO.

“The Clippers are poised to be able to lure him from Toronto. This will be a Raptors-Clippers fight down to the end. He may take meetings with more teams; it’s not even certain he’d even take a meeting with the Lakers right now.”

Leonard has more of a financial incentive to sign with the Raptors or Clippers rather than the Lakers.

Toronto has Leonard’s Bird rights, which means it can go over the salary cap to re-sign him. The most it could offer Leonard would be a five-year, $189.7 million deal, per Forbes.

If Leonard wants to return home, the Clippers could offer the best contract of the two LA teams. They have enough cap space to sign a max free agent so they could offer Leonard as much as $140.6 million over four years.

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Meanwhile, the Lakers, because of the timing of their trade for Davis, won’t have enough cap space for a max-level contract to offer Leonard, according to Wojnarowski.

There’s also the fact that the Lakers have little else on their roster outside of LeBron James and the incoming Davis. Once the trade is complete, they will have only five players under contract, according to Forbes: James, Davis, Kyle Kuzma and two of last year’s rookies, Mo Wagner and Isaac Bonga.

Leonard has until June 29 — which happens to be his 28th birthday — to decide whether to accept his player option with the Raptors.

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Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009.
Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009 and previously worked for ESPN, CBS and STATS Inc. A native of Louisiana, Ross now resides in Houston.
Location
Houston, Texas
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English
Topics of Expertise
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