While a report earlier this week stated that Kawhi Leonard’s preference for next year is still to play in Los Angeles, joining either the Lakers or Clippers in free agency, that doesn’t mean that he has made up his mind about this being a one-and-done season with the Raptors. Appearing on TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto, Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News expressed a belief that Toronto has a chance to re-sign Leonard in 2019.
“Based off of me talking to people within his circle, they’re going to go into this thing with an open mind and give this thing every last opportunity to work,” Young said, according to Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports. “Obviously, I think part of his mind, yes, let’s keep it real: I think he still feels like L.A. might be the destination, but the same time, he plans to go into this thing with an open mind, giving it every single shot in the world to make it work.”
When the Raptors agreed to trade for Leonard last month, team president Masai Ujiri did so with a “determination” that he could convince the star forward to remain with the franchise for more than one year, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted earlier this week. The Raptors are already taking early steps to try to win over Leonard, having reached a deal to hire former Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry, who is good friends with Kawhi.
Even if Leonard still favors Los Angeles for now, much can change over the course of a year. The Lakers and Clippers aren’t necessarily locks to make the playoffs in an incredibly competitive Western Conference, so if both L.A. teams have down years and a healthy Leonard helps lead the Raptors to a deep postseason run, that would presumably have an impact on his thinking as he hits the open market in 2019.
Leonard technically remains under contract for two more seasons, but can decline a 2019-20 player option and become a free agent next summer.