Billions of dollars later, we have reached a pause in NBA free agency.
After a tremendous start the first 6 hours after free agency officially began, everything has come to a halt as the world waits for a decision from 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Kawhi has met with three teams at this time: the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Toronto Raptors.
All season it seemed like Kawhi was destined to leave the Raptors for the Clippers, but after leading the team to a championship, it became a coin toss to those looking it. Then about a week ago we began to hear the Lakers wanted to use their newly confirmed max cap space on Leonard, and suddenly it became a three-horse race.
When Leonard requested a trade from the Spurs last offseason, his camp said he wanted to be traded to the Lakers. However, after LeBron signed with the team, it seemed like he changed his mind, and instead wanted to go to the Clippers.
Maybe getting Davis changed the calculus, but nevertheless, it seems like he could go anywhere at this point.
Lets reevaluate his options.
Los Angeles Lakers
His first choice over a year ago, could it happen now?
Well, a certain sect of the media believes so.
If Kawhi signs with the Lakers, they would have a Big 3 featuring Leonard, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. To round out the roster, they would have Kyle Kuzma, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, and Talen Horton-Tucker.
From there on they could use a room level exception (worth $4.5 million) and veteran minimum contracts to fill out the remainder of the team, but the allure of playing with a Big 3 like this would surely be high.
Have we ever seen a Big 3 this strong? Maybe the Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in Miami, but I cannot think of another Big 3 with three players this talented individually.
That does not mean they would succeed together, they would need to work to make the pieces fit (plus efficiently fill out the roster), but it would certainly be a good start…
And a favorite to win a championship in 2020.
Los Angeles Clippers
The connection we all heard about for a year: Kawhi to the Clippers.
The Clippers have something the Lakers do not have: a roster.
The team is pretty much all set, and if Kawhi joined the Clippers, we have a good idea of what their rotation would look like:
PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Patrick Beverley/Tyrone Wallace
SG: Landry Shamet/Lou Williams/Jerome Robinson
SF: Kawhi Leonard/Mo Harkless/Rodney McGruder
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Ivica Zubac*/Montrezl Harrell
*Zubac is a restricted free agent
Other than Leonard, this would mostly be the same team that won 48 games last season and took the Golden State Warriors (with a healthy Durant) to 6 games.
They would have plenty of depth, and Kawhi would be the unquestioned first option. They might be lacking strong complimentary pieces, but having Kawhi would make the Clippers a top 4 team in a much weaker Western Conference than we are used to seeing.
It could be enough for a long playoff run.
Kawhi Leonard’s 2018-2019 team: the Toronto Raptors.
Leonard led the Raptors to a championship this past season after a phenomenal playoff run.
Kawhi staying in Toronto would make the Raptors favorites to win a championship yet again, and for good reason.
The core pieces of the team will be back next season. There would be the veteran play from players like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, and another year for Pascal Siakam to grow.
We already know what this team can do in a playoff setting when Kawhi is at full strength, and the expectation would be exactly the same regardless of how many games he played in the regular season; a healthy Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the NBA right now.
The question becomes this: can Kawhi be happy in Toronto, or does a desire to go back home to Southern California have a stronger pull?
A path to win would be here, but is it enough?
Where will Kawhi sign?
For the longest time I thought he would end up a Clipper, but I am losing faith in that happening.
I think Kawhi is doing the right thing right now and being extremely meticulous about a life-altering decision.
He has something going in his favor that great players of this era have not had when in this situation: he’s a champion.
We saw decisions made by LeBron James in 2010 and 2014 (specifically for Cleveland), then Kevin Durant in 2016, based on chasing winning, and it was the end all be all.
As fans we root for loyalty, but in the NBA, more than any other sport, we root for players to win multiple championships in order to validate their historical standing. It can be toxic, as we have seen with Kevin Durant, and we have seen him and James make decisions now to go places that will make them happy.
I think Kawhi should keep this in mind.
Kawhi could absolutely win another championship in Toronto, but will he be happy there doing so? He very well could be, and if that is the case, he should stay.
However, he wanted to be a Laker, then a Clipper, a year ago, and if he doesn’t win in Toronto and is stuck there because of pressure to win, will he be happy? Will going to Los Angeles ever be on the table again?
Kawhi is difficult to understand, and that’s fine. He does his job on the court, and then goes about his life.
From what we do know, it seems like Los Angeles would make him happy.
Any Los Angeles team he goes to will have a good chance to win. If he wants a chance to be the face of a franchise and bring a team to prominence, he should go to the Clippers. If he wants to win multiple titles in the years to come and add to his trophy case, his best chance is teaming up with LeBron and AD in the short term, and growing with Davis in the long term.
I want him to become a Clipper, and I think it makes more sense for who he is, but I also think he sees the pull of the Lakers right now… and I think it’s where he ends up.
Whatever happens, ask the best of this era and they’ll tell you this: do what makes you happy.
Credit to the photo above goes to Gregory Shamus of Getty Images
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