After Wednesday’s pseudo-circus — or, the day #KawhiWatch officially broke the city of Toronto — Kawhi Leonard still has the NBA world waiting with bated breath as he prepares to decide which way the league’s balance of power will tilt.
The fact the NBA’s biggest and most plugged-in reporters and news-breakers — Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania, Marc Stein and others — have been eerily quiet when it comes to Kawhi rumblings should tell you something about either the lack of information out there or the effort in keeping said information under wraps until a decision is made.
We know that he has met with all three teams now. With all of his meetings completed, Leonard and his advisors will now take the next day or three to weigh their options: Return to Toronto and go for back-to-back titles; go home to Los Angeles and help create a new local marquee franchise in the Clippers; or join the Lakers and form the most formidable ‘big three’ in decades.
The Rose Report
One clear indication that, nearly one week into the free agent frenzy, there is still little concrete info to go on is the sheer amount of conflicting reports out there.
To wit: On Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the streets of Yorkville turned into Beatlemania Lite, former Raptor and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose sent Toronto into a further frenzy when he announced on television that he was “99 per cent hearing” (whatever that means) that Leonard will re-sign with the Raptors on a two-year deal that would make him eligible for the NBA’s “super max” contract in the summer of 2021 when he completes his 10th season (a benchmark that means he could earn more money).
The Athletic‘s Jabari Young, who covers the Spurs, refuted the Rose report saying that no two-year deals have been bandied about.
The notion has been that if Leonard were to return to Toronto it would be on a short-term deal, given the makeup of the Raptors roster, with aging veterans Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol all with just one year left on their contracts.
The trust factor
Can Kawhi Leonard trust his career in the hands of the Lakers and Clippers organizations? Those teams will have to convince the reigning Finals MVP of just that — something the Toronto Raptors have already done over the course of this past season, keeping him healthy and happy and, most importantly, winning.
Cris Carter, the legendary NFL wide receiver-turned-FS1 talking head, has been reporting confidently regarding Leonard throughout the season, and on Thursday morning said that “Kawhi trusts his career with the Toronto Raptors,” with the caveat that as of Wednesday night, “no team has an edge” as Leonard does his due diligence.
On the trust issue, Carter indicates that is a significant factor for Leonard — and one that has allows Carter himself to be privy to such inside info.
“Why do I have the information? Because they trust me. I’ve been knowing Kawhi since he left San Diego State and decided to come into the NBA. They trust how I report it and trust I’m going to get it accurate to what they say. Not what my opinion is.”
“Toronto has that over everyone,” he continued. “The doctors. The coaching staff. The city. He’s comfortable. Kawhi trusts his career with the Toronto Raptors. And the Lakers and the Clippers are going to have to convince him and take some of that trust for him to decide to play basketball with them moving forward.”
The Raptors impressed during their meeting, Carter said on Thursday afternoon before releasing the people of America to enjoy their holiday:
Lakers lose in the waiting game
The longer Kawhi waits, the tougher the Lakers’ situation gets, according to ESPN insider and former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks, who explains that as the days pass there’s a chance for complications in the Anthony Davis trade and the Lakers ability to further add talent to their roster.
Knicks give up
The New York Knicks reportedly cancelled their free agency pitch meeting with Leonard, which was supposed to take place earlier this week.
“According to a source, Leonard agreed to meet with the Knicks, but not until Wednesday after finishing with the Clippers and Lakers,” Marc Berman of the New York Post wrote Wednesday. “That plan was scratched by Knicks’ brass over logistics.”
After opting not to offer Kevin Durant a max contract, striking out on other marquee free agents, and instead spending over $160 million on Julius Randle and a handful of ho-hum veterans (granted all on deals with a team option for next season, making the Knicks hypothetical players in next year’s free agent market), the 2019 off-season has not been kind to the Knicks franchise.
Leonard was also reportedly set to meet with the Brooklyn Nets this week as well, but once the team swiftly scooped up Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan as soon as the free agency window opened on Sunday night, they were clearly no longer in the running for Leonard.