Toronto Raptors Free Agency 2019: Are the Clippers fading from the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes?

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Clippers were once the presumed favorite to steal Kawhi Leonard from the Toronto Raptors. Now, their chances appear to be fading every day.

The Los Angeles Clippers obsessed over Kawhi Leonard. They cleared their books for him, they fired employees who questioned him, they scouted Toronto Raptors games to recruit him like a college athlete. Now, just a few days into free-agency, their chances appear to be dwindling.

With Kawhi reportedly taking his time, some wondered if the market would also stay in limbo, similar to what it did in 2014 when LeBron James was a free agent. That has not been the case. There were too many free agents and too many moves to make for the market to wait on Leonard. As Leonard waits, the league is furiously changing around him.

Every day that passes, the free agent pool gets a little weaker. Star players — including Leonard’s rumored potential teammate Jimmy Butler — have found homes elsewhere. Available role players are rapidly disappearing.

For the Lakers and Raptors, that’s not a problem. If Kawhi signs, he would use up all of the Lakers cap space. They would be left with only a $4.7 million exception and minimum contracts to fill out the remaining parts of their roster. Those players are still readily available.

The Raptors, meanwhile, don’t have any cap space. They simply are attempting to bring back 2019’s championship roster. At most, they might be able to use their Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, something they can easily do after Kawhi’s decision.

Clippers chances lower every day

But every day that passes, the Clippers ability to load up around Kawhi Leonard weakens. Their cap space is becoming less valuable by the hour.

If Leonard had his heart set on the Clipper this whole time, he did himself a bit of a disservice by not letting them know so they could act accordingly.

Now, with free agents dropping like flies, the Clippers appear to be auctioning some of their cap space away for future picks. On Monday, the Clippers agreed to a deal in which they absorbed Maurice Harkless’ contract into space for a protected 2023 Miami Heat first rounder. Note: Even after the trade, the Clippers still have enough space to sign Kawhi Leonard without issue. 

By itself, it’s a great deal for the Clippers. Harkless is on an expiring contract, he makes only $11 million next season, and he can still play a little bit. He’s not worth what he’s being paid, but he can contribute on a winning team.

But what it represents is a little more problematic. The Clippers don’t believe they can find $11 million worth of value on the free agent market. Instead, they’re willing to take on bad salary for future assets. Teams who are expecting to land Kawhi Leonard typically aren’t piling up future assets, they’re spending assets to win-now.

Raptors vs Lakers

If it is indeed a two-team race, it should theoretically help the Raptors chances from where they were on July 1. The Lakers are just as strong a threat as ever, but competing with one team is easier than competing with two.

The arguments are also pretty clear-cut. The Lakers offer the opportunity to move closer to home, the chance to play for a historically great franchise, and the ability to assemble the greatest trio of talent all-time. The Lakers would have three of the top seven players in the NBA and become instant title favorites.

The Raptors represent a roster loaded with complimentary talent, built to put Kawhi Leonard in the best situation possible. They have star-studded defenders throughout the roster and don’t have a serious weakness throughout their rotation. In fact, they were so good, they won this thing called an NBA Championship last season.

dark. Next. 74 reasons why Kawhi Leonard is staying

It’s too early to call the Clippers out of the race. They’re a fun roster, they’re in L.A., and they’ll have the opportunity to pitch their case in a meeting. But their chances appear to less than they once were. The Clippers are losing steam by the day.