Toronto Raptors: The case for/against Kawhi Leonard choosing the north

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

The case for leaving

The few reports that have come out since Leonard was acquired would generally agree: he likely wants to go to Los Angeles.

Even before he was traded to the Raptors, Leonard made it clear that he wanted to make his way to the west coast, limiting the Spurs trade options. The franchise chose to get the best package available, placing the onus on the Raptors to convince him to stay.

So far, with the team jostling with the Milwaukee Bucks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the success has been abundant. With Pascal Siakam having a breakout season and Nick Nurse’s system fitting seamlessly, the team is rolling already.

The problem is the franchise started from behind. Instead of having an open mind, Leonard made it known where his preferred destination was. Those intentions created an uphill battle for Masai Ujiri and company.

First, let’s look at the Clippers and Lakers situations.

For the Clippers, they will make a push to make Leonard their premier star, carrying the team on both ends.

For next year, the team has only $60.3 million allocated to players, with Danilo Gallinari‘s contract serving as a large portion of that sum. If the team is able to move Gallinari in a salary dump, they will likely garner even greater funds.

Outside of the power forward, the team has Montrezl Harrell, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams and youngsters filling the remainder of their roster for next year. As far as defense, the addition of Leonard would make them a juggernaut on that end.

On offense, outside of Williams, Leonard would have little competition for touches and attempts. Without the addition of another star, Leonard could once again elevate his career-high scoring marks.

The Lakers, on the other hand, already have an established superstar: LeBron James.

Outside of James, the Lakers have a glut of young pieces in Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart among others. The team also has an abundance of expiring contracts, clearing the way for a max offer in the offseason.

They also have the ability to make a move for Anthony Davis this offseason, particularly if Leonard agrees to come on board.

Between the two, Leonard has the choice between true contention for a title or playoff contention and a leading role.

Both options give Leonard the opportunity to play in Los Angeles as well, an option the Raptors clearly cannot offer. With a new shoe endorsement, the move to one of the largest markets in the league would be a boon to his New Balance deal’s success.

Bypassing more money with the Raptors could also give Leonard the opportunity to sign a shorter deal that would enable him to hit the market again after his 10th season.