Kawhi Leonard to Toronto: What It Means for the Los Angeles Lakers

Kawhi Leonard is now a Toronto Raptor. What does that mean for the Lakers? Let's explore...

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After months of reports and speculation, Kawhi Leonard has finally been traded. He was not dealt to Los Angeles, Boston, or Philadelphia, but Toronto! According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Raptors received Leonard and Danny Green while the Spurs got All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick.

News Rundown

According to that same report, Leonard “plans to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.” First Things First Co-Host Cris Carter shares Agent Mitch Frankel with Kawhi. CC is also in constant contact with his camp. The NFL Hall of Famer has repeatedly said the NBA all-star will only commit to play for the Lakers or Clippers. Earlier this week, Woj and Ramona Shelburne reported that the Lakers are “confident” Leonard wants to play with them and join via free agency. Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher recently echoed this and added the Lakers are “confident” he will come next summer.

Also, Woj is adamant that the former 2014 Finals MVP’s goal aims to be a Laker. Colin Cowherd, as well as Carter, stated his sources say the star forward wants to play for either the Lakers or the Clippers.

Kawhi Sitting Out?

Now for the peculiar, sources from Ric Bucher, Sean Deveney, Chris Haynes, and Cris Carter (whose report was mentioned earlier) stated Kawhi Leonard would not play for the Raptors. However, Yahoo’s Chris Mannix reported that the swingman has no interest in playing for Toronto, but the chances of him not reporting to training camp are “remote.”

According to Woj on Sportscenter, Leonard has to play next season without an injury excuse to earn his full $20 million. Kawhi is coming off a quad injury that limited him to just nine games last season. He is in a contract year looking for a max contract. It makes little sense why he would sit out instead of playing for Toronto. Abstaining the whole year despite medically cleared can cost him all of his 2019 salaries. Going to LA would help the star’s endorsement deals immensely.

LA Bidding War

Furthermore, Zach Lowe says the Raptors could ignite a bidding war between the Clippers and Lakers. The purple and gold are in an interesting spot. While they can outbid their Staples Center neighbors with their young assets, they are smartly willing to keep their cards in their hand to wait for free agency. Realistic deals that can put them in contention with Golden State this season are nonexistent. But, if Kawhi is traded to the Clippers, how likely would he be to re-sign?

In the clip above, Carter explains Kawhi is not necessarily wooed by playing for a super team. LA is his number one priority. The only way that the Klaw would choose the Clippers over the Lakers is if he does not want the limelight and/or be under LeBron’s shadow. If Kawhi joins the Lakers, he might end up taking the mantle of the best player on the team from LeBron, who will turn 35 years old in their first hypothetical year together. However, he might prefer to take the Kyrie Irving route of trying to lead his own team.

But, joining LeBron and the youngsters can theoretically contend for a championship depending on the prospects’ progress.

Understanding this, the Lakers should have plenty of flexibility to add Kawhi without gutting their roster. Assuming the Lakers do not decline any of the team options on their young players next offseason, their roster should consist of LeBron, Ball, Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Luol Deng, Moe Wagner, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Isaac Bonga. Stretching Deng to $9 million per year over two seasons instead of $18 million over one year would attain an extra $9 million in cap space. This allows them to give Kawhi the max while not sacrificing any current or future talent.

If Deng and their 2020 first-round pick are dealt as a salary dump and a 2019 second-rounder comes in return, the Lakers would have 10 players on the roster including their 2019 draft picks. They would have roughly $47 million in cap space. If Leonard signs for the max of 35 percent of the cap ($37.5M for 2020), LA would have approximately $9.5 million in cap room to fill up that last roster spot. This does not count them using a mid-level or other exception to exceed the salary cap, especially ones to help sign their draft picks.

What About the Raps?

Now, let’s include the Raptors in the mix. Toronto is coming off a top-seeded 59-win season. Unfortunately, it ended in the Cavaliers sweeping them in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. However, they got even better swapping DeRozan and Poeltl for Leonard and Green.

Despite LeBron out West, the East should be even tougher. Gordon Hayward is healthy for Boston. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz should all be better. Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo might raise their games. The Bucks also added Mike Budenholzer as their coach. The Raps did get better, but their road to the one-seed will be even more strenuous.

Toronto will probably need to make the NBA Finals for Kawhi to consider staying. Obviously, it depends upon the Finals outcome and how the Lakers and Clippers finish in the West. Even then, I would assume most people would rather play with LeBron and the Lakers’ youngsters than Kyle Lowry and the Raptors’ role players/youngsters.

Lastly, calling Leonard’s situation in Toronto akin to Paul George’s in OKC is a hasty generalization. Kyle Lowry is not Russell Westbrook. As a Palmdale native, PG-13 is used to a small town whereas the Klaw grew up in Riverside.

Good or Bad for the Lake Show?

If Kawhi Leonard’s choices come down between the Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors, purple and gold fans should feel extremely confident with their chances. His health is still an obvious concern. He will attend Team USA camp next Wednesday. This should give everyone a clearer picture of his status. Besides that, the opportunity to play with LeBron James and that young core is too big to pass up. Neither the Raptors nor the Clippers can top that. LeBron, Kawhi, Ball, Ingram, and the rest of that core might become the team to take down that Northern Californian goliath.