Prior to the 2018-19 NBA season, Kawhi Leonard eventually requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs after only playing nine games due to a right quadriceps injury.
At the time of the request, Leonard’s preferred destination reportedly was the Los Angeles Lakers. However, once the Spurs traded him to the Toronto Raptors instead of the Lakers, the narrative changed to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Although Leonard is set to decline his $21.3 million player option for the 2019-20 season, it appears the one season with the Raptors has changed the 27-year-old’s stance.
Coming off the 2019 NBA Finals win over the Golden State Warriors, the Raptors are considered the favorites to re-sign him, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:
The appeal of returning home to Southern California is enticing to the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, but with the trust the Raptors built while Leonard led the franchise to its first NBA title by upsetting the Golden State Warriors, rival executives view his current team as the favorite to land him when the free-agent negotiating period begins June 30, sources said.
As the Raptors took a major risk, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics believed he would eventually sign in Los Angeles on June 30, according to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:
The informed belief that Leonard had every intention of signing in Los Angeles in 2019 was the determining factor for both the 76ers and Boston Celtics in not accepting more robust proposals by the San Antonio Spurs for Leonard last summer, according to sources with each team who were close to those negotiations.
When the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl, there was confidence after Paul George re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder under similar circumstances.
As for Leonard, it would make sense for him to re-sign on a short-term deal. Outside of Marc Gasol (player option) and Danny Green, their core players will still be under contract for the 2019-20 season to defend their championship.
As for the Lakers, it is currently unclear if they will even have a max-contract deal to offer Leonard following the Anthony Davis trade. If the Lakers are unable to sign him, they may be better off signing role players for much-needed depth.