Kawhi Leonard: will he stay or will he go?
This is the question keeping every Raptors fan up at night. Thankfully, an answer might be coming soon.
The NBA’s annual free agency period officially begins Sunday at 6:00 p.m., when teams will begin meeting with players to discuss potential contracts. Kawhi Leonard, who opted to turn down his player option in favour of free agency, is scheduled to meet with a number of teams including the Raptors before he decides where to sign.
Ahead of the start time, here’s what you need to know about free agency and the Board Man’s mysterious future.
How does free agency work?
An unrestricted free agent can sign with any team they like without their previous team interfering. This is opposed to restricted free agents, who can sign onto offers from other teams, though their previous team has a 48-hour window to match the terms of that contract if they want to retain the player.
While players are free to meet with teams to discuss potential contracts beginning Sunday, free agents can’t actually sign any contracts until July 6 due to a Moratorium period (with a few exceptions) intended to give the players and teams time to think through their decision.
Players can agree to contract terms by making verbal agreements before the Moratorium period ends, but these agreements aren’t binding and the public isn’t likely to know about them until an actual contract is signed.
What does this mean for Kawhi?
Leonard is an unrestricted free agent, so he’ll be meeting with several teams on his own before making a decision. Due to the Moratorium period, we likely won’t know his decision until July 6 or later.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard is expected to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday and the Los Angeles Clippers on July 2. He’s also expected to meet with the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors before meeting with the Toronto Raptors — but Wojnarowski says it’s typical for the incumbent team to give the final presentation.
League sources told ESPN that Leonard has also discussed teaming up with Kevin Durant, an unrestricted free-agent, so the two can play together in future years. Durant, however, is likely to be sidelined for most if not all of the coming season as he recovers from a torn achilles.
In a press conference, Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri told reporters he hopes to convince Leonard to stay in Toronto.
He said he’s met with the superstar, and while he called the meetings “positive,” he didn’t provide any details about the discussions.
The odds and the experts
Of course, nobody knows what Leonard will do until he does it, but the experts and analysts are making their predictions nonetheless.
But the odds are still in Toronto’s favour.
“Kawhi said he has never had more fun playing basketball than in Toronto. He wants to win,” writes Bruce Arthur. “Ujiri has a ring on order, and he will be persuasive too. He is the one with the vision, who built a championship organization, and who has final say over the plan.”
On Twitter, Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard said the Raptors’ chances of re-signing Leonard are “fading,” while the Lakers or Clippers have the best chance at signing him.
ESPN sportswriter Brian Windhorst agrees.
“The thing Kawhi has that I don’t think everyone in Toronto understands is that, they think if Kawhi comes back to Toronto they’ll be championship contenders, so they say ‘please come back here, let’s win another one.’ But the reality is, wherever Kawhi goes, he’ll be a championship contender, so I don’t know how much of a sway coming back to the exact same team has for him,” said Windhorst.
According to Odds Shark, betters have their money heavily set on Leonard re-signing with the Raptors, followed by the Clippers, the Lakers, the Knicks and the Nets.
Some are skeptical of Leonard signing with a Los Angeles team, too.
“I don’t think his goal is to join a super-team,” said NBA analyst Jalen Rose on ESPN. “I don’t see him as the kind of player, when the warm-ups start, slapping high-fives with everyone on celebrity row. That’s what you’ll be required to do in Los Angeles if you join the Lakers or the Clippers.”
“There’s no way I see Leonard joining the Lakers,” added NBA analyst Jay Williams.
How are fans handling all this?
Needless to say, fans in Toronto and beyond are eager to have Leonard on their team.
A petition asking Leonard to stay in Toronto has over 28,500 signatures, while countless local businesses have promised him free stuff — food, clothing, real-estate, and so on — should he choose to stay.
Meanwhile, billboards have sprung up around Los Angeles encouraging Leonard to join the Clippers, as well as a somewhat premature mural depicting Leonard holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy while sporting a Lakers jersey.
Jacob Lorinc is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jacoblorinc