Kawhi Leonard is unlike every other superstar in the NBA. That means his free agency is also taking its own unique path.
While all the other max players in the league agreed to terms for their new contracts by July 1, the latest reporting from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (during an appearance on ESPN 710) suggests the Leonard is in no rush to pick where he’ll play next season.
Here are some of the highlights:
“He has not made a decision yet, he’s still going through the process. I reported on Sunday that he wasn’t having any meetings with any teams on the first day. He’s going to take his time throughout the process, it’s expected to be a couple days.
“There’s no decision made, and all three teams that he’s meeting with — Clippers, Lakers, Raptors — are all still in play right now.
“I would expect a decision by Wednesday or Thursday, 4th of July the latest.”
This is the first time that Leonard has been an unrestricted free agent, which means this is the first time he has full autonomy over where he will play. When he told the Spurs he wanted out during the 2018 offseason, all indications were that he wanted to go to the Lakers, but he was sent to Toronto anyway. Now, Leonard has freedom to pick his next destination, and he is taking his time to make that choice.
Haynes reporting that this is still a three-team race for Leonard is also important to note. The incumbent Raptors as well as both Los Angeles teams — each of which has reserved a $32 million max slot while the rest of the cap space around the league dries up — are each in the mix for Leonard’s services, leaving all of them taking a dangerous (but logical) risk as free agency plays out elsewhere, with the Lakers walking the thinnest tightrope of all.
Toronto has no means to replace Leonard as an over-the-cap team, so the delay doesn’t really affect their offseason planning. The Clippers also have a substantial amount of depth whether or not Leonard chooses to join their franchise, and they even acquired a potential starting small forward (Maurice Harkless) in the Jimmy Butler trade.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are watching their backup options come off the board as they wait for Leonard to make this decision. The Lakers have always believed in letting stars behave like stars, and they surely are not second-guessing their plan to go all-in on Leonard. However, the longer this takes, the more difficult it will be to build a team around LeBron James and Anthony Davis once Leonard eventually decides where he will suit up next season. If Leonard doesn’t choose the Lakers, that wait could prove costly, even if it’s hard to critique the team too hard for taking their shot at one of the best players in the league.
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