The ongoing saga of Kawhi Leonard’s rift with the San Antonio Spurs may be at a standstill but the Toronto Raptors have emerged as the new favorite of oddsmakers to acquire the Spurs forward.
Online sportsbook Sportsbook has updated its oddsboard and has placed the Raptors as +100 favorites to be the team Kawhi Leonard suits up with for the 2018-19 season. Following the Raptors are the Spurs (+400), Lakers (+500), Clippers (+600), Sixers (+800), Celtics (+800), Bucks (+1000), Knicks (+1500), Cavaliers (+2000) and Rockets (+2000) to round out the top 10.
Who will blink first? Kawhi or the Spurs?
In this enduring schism between superstar and stable franchise, someone will need to make the first move and it looks like Leonard’s camp has done just that. Kawhi’s representation has expressed his desire to move on from the Spurs because of an apparent misdiagnosis of his quad injury last season while also feeling that he needs to move to a bigger market to capitalize on marketability and endorsement deals.
The marketing and endorsement angle may be valid as San Antonio isn’t exactly known as a media hotbed in North America and with the clock ticking on his contract, the Spurs are in the unenviable position of most likely having to part with the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. The main thing that the Spurs have going for them to keep Kawhi is they’re the only team that can offer him one of the new super-max contracts. Players are only eligible to sign those deals with the team that drafted them and by declining to sign, Leonard will leave upwards of $55 million on the table.
Raptors Gaining Steam to Land Kawhi
The Toronto Raptors may be in NBA purgatory with the roster as currently constructed – they’re good enough to beat 90 percent of teams in the league but shrink when faced with toppling high-end squads. This is why the Raps going after Kawhi may seem like a huge win but I think it’s a puzzling move as it’s been well documented that the Spurs will want a hefty return to part with him.
It seems unlikely that GM Masai Ujiri would want to let go of any of his players currently under rookie contracts nor would he want to part with DeMar DeRozan if it’s for a one-year rental. DeRozan for Kawhi would be a decent swap if Leonard agrees to sign some sort of extension with the Dinos but that seems unlikely as his camp has expressed a desire to return to his hometown of Los Angeles.
Ujiri is known in NBA circles to be a wheeler-dealer if it means improving the team as evidenced by him acquiring Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline in 2016 and dumping former Raptors players Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani within six months of taking the job in the T-Dot. The Eastern Conference is wide open this year with LeBron taking his talents to Hollywood so if the deal makes sense for both the Raps and Spurs, Kawhi could be a Raptor for at least one season to show he’s healthy and can still dominate on both ends of the floor.
Are the Lakers and Sixers Still in the Mix?
Since this potential divorce has been publicized, the Los Angeles Lakers have been the main franchise that has wanted to acquire Leonard to pair with LeBron James. Leonard’s representation has made it known that he wants to play in L.A. and pairing him with James would be an excellent one-two punch to combat the Warriors. But the Spurs’ asking price for Kawhi (Ingram, Kuzma, draft picks, etc.) would essentially gut the Lakers roster and since Leonard’s going to be a free agent in 2019, the Lakers are actually being prudent with their long-term future and will most likely wait it out.
The Sixers, on the other hand, have plenty of assets and a turnkey squad that could dominate the Eastern Conference. The Sixers could part with Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz and draft capital to get the deal done but reports coming out are suggesting that package is not enough to pry Leonard from the Spurs. At +800, the odds are decent value but with so many suitors and the fact that the Raptors may be willing to roll the dice on a one-year deal, it’s hard to envision Kawhi in the City of Brotherly Love.