Kawhi Leonard is still primarily interested in signing with the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers next July when he becomes an unrestricted free-agent, according to a report from ESPN.
Leonard, who was traded to the Toronto Raptors this summer after requesting a trade from San Antonio, is from the California area.
The Raptors can offer Leonard almost $50 million more than any other team in 2019, including a fifth year. Leonard, however, will have to pay more money in taxes now that he’s living in Canada.
Toronto president Masai Ujiri was made aware of Leonard’s reluctance to play for the team before pulling the trigger on the trade with the Spurs, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. Ujiri made the deal anyway, as now that LeBron James is in the West, Toronto feels it has a great chance to get to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history with Leonard in the mix.
The Raptors had the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference this past season and are essentially replacing DeMar DeRozan with Leonard.
Ujiri and coach Nick Nurse have roughly 12 months to convince Leonard to re-sign with Toronto. Nurse and Leonard met for the first time in July and Nurse says the meeting went great.
“I sat down first and said, ‘Do you have any questions?’ and he started firing them [at me],” Nurse told TSN and The Toronto Star. “It led us to a really easy going [meeting]. It was not what I was expecting. He’s very smart, very intelligent and very engaging. It was really enjoyable.
“He lit up like a Christmas tree. He was prepared, he had a list of questions. Then when I got up he started asking me about the offense and I told him how we built it and the things that we do, the shot spectrum and showing him the spacing. He got out of his chair and got up at the board with me and they had to drag us out of there in the end because they had to go do something else. But it was great.”
Leonard only played in nine games in 2017-18 due to a lingering quadriceps injury. He passed his physical with the Raptors, but no one knows what the two-time Defensive Player of the Year will look like this upcoming season since it’s been so long since we have seen him in action.