The “Kawhi Watch” marches on across the NBA, with a new chapter added to it yesterday.
The top free agent left on the market is still deciding where he will sign for the 2019-20 season and beyond, but getting any details or sense on what he may be thinking doesn’t turn up much.
Jabari Young of The Athletic has a solid connection with Leonard and covered him when he played for the San Antonio Spurs. Young tweeted last night that Leonard would not make a decision anytime soon, it seems.
Via Twitter, Young wrote: “On the Kawhi front, told he’s not making a decision tonight and it may not be until the next few days. He and his reps are going through the process and taking their time before deciding the next move. No 2-year deals have been discussed.”
Via ESPN’s show “Get Up” on Thursday morning, Adrian Wojnarowski said of Leonard: “He’s going to decide this when he decides this. … Kawhi Leonard hasn’t made a decision yet.”
Doug Smith of the Toronto Star also has more on Wednesday’s latest with Leonard, who by all accounts heard a pitch from the Raptors yesterday:
How that pitch went, what it included, who precisely was involved and, most importantly, what impact it had on Leonard and his advisers remained as closely guarded a secret as exists in the league today.
It has been long expected Toronto would throw the best offer possible at Leonard — five years and nearly $190 million (all figures U.S.) — which is one year and $40 million more than either the Los Angeles Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers could offer. But the very real possibility is that Leonard might prefer a shorter contract.
League sources — and that includes a very public statement by former Raptor and current broadcaster Jalen Rose — say a one- or two-year deal, with maybe an option for a third year, is very much in play.
Leonard could get $68.1 million for a one-year deal with one option year; a two-plus-one deal would max out at about $106 million.
The Rose statement on his Twitter feed said he was “99 per cent” sure the Leonard would be back with Toronto. It was followed less than an hour later by one from Cris Carter, the football hall-of-famer turned broadcaster and the brother of ex-Raptors coach Butch Carter. “A LOT of premature reports out there,” wrote Carter, who is seemingly close to Leonard. “Kawhi has NOT made his decision yet and all 3 teams are still in it. Yes, Lakers and Clippers are still in play and I’m 100 per cent certain of this. I wouldn’t hold my breath on getting an answer any time soon. Kawhi still undecided.”
A private plane owned by the group that operates the Toronto Raptors landed Wednesday afternoon at Pearson International Airport in Toronto — and video footage suggested that Kawhi Leonard was one of the passengers on that plane.
The plane’s occupants boarded SUVs on the tarmac and were driven toward downtown Toronto, with at least one news helicopter airing their trip live even though it was not confirmed that Leonard was indeed in one of those vehicles.
On Wednesday, a large crowd formed outside a posh downtown hotel where Raptors President Masai Ujiri had been spotted earlier in the day, with the assumption being that the hotel is where the meeting between Leonard and the team may be taking place.
Since leading the Raptors to the 2019 NBA title, Leonard was spotted in Niagara Falls with his family and at a Blue Jays game (where he got a lengthy standing ovation). He was also photographed on social media in a subsequent trip to the Bahamas, where he was seen wearing a Blue Jays jersey.
So far in free agency, the Raptors have only made one reported move, adding EuroLeague guard Matt Thomas. Swingman Danny Green is an unrestricted free agent this summer and has received interest from the Dallas Mavericks, the Toronto Star reports. However, Green seems to be in no hurry to sign a deal and some have reported he may sign wherever Leonard chooses to go.
Leonard turned down his player option for 2019-20, thus becoming an unrestricted free agent, which set off a frenzy of teams officially interested in his services.
In leading the Raptors to their first NBA championship, Leonard joined exclusive company en route to being named MVP of The Finals. Only he, LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can rightfully claim to have won Finals MVP with two different teams (Leonard won his first Finals MVP as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 2014).
Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.
He scored 732 points in the playoffs. Only Michael Jordan (759) and James (748) ever scored more in a single postseason. Leonard finished with 14 games of 30 points or more in these playoffs. The only players with more in a single postseason are Jordan (16 in 1992), Hakeem Olajuwon (16 in 1995) and Kobe Bryant (15 in 2009).
Getting Leonard was just one of a bold series of moves Ujiri made in the last 12 months. He fired last season’s coach of the year in Dwane Casey and hired Nick Nurse. He traded away three players at midseason for Marc Gasol. And he took the risk that Leonard would be both happy enough and healthy enough to take the Raptors to the newest and highest of heights.
Shortly after The Finals ended, Ujiri said he and Leonard had talked several times and Ujiri remained confident the Raptors would keep Leonard in the fold going forward. Gasol opted into his contract for next season before free agency began.
His path has not been an easy one. He wasn’t highly recruited in high school. By the time bigger colleges were calling, he was committed to San Diego State. He wasn’t even a lottery pick, getting taken No. 15 in the 2011 draft — behind the likes of Derrick Williams, Tristan Thompson, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette and Alec Burks, none of whom averaged 10 points per game for their NBA careers.