- Some in the NBA think the Toronto Raptors are now the favourites to re-sign Kawhi Leonard in free agency, according to a report.
- If the Raptors re-sign Leonard, they will be the second team in two years to gamble on trading for a superstar approaching free agency. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded for Paul George in 2017, then re-signed him to a long-term contract the next summer.
- The Raptors retaining Leonard this summer could encourage other teams to trade for star players with one year remaining on their contracts in hopes of re-signing them.
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The Toronto Raptors’ historic season may have been enough to convince Kawhi Leonard to stay in Toronto, at least for a little while longer.
According to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, some within the NBA believe the Raptors are now the favourites to re-sign Leonard when he hits free agency this summer.
The Raptors took a big gamble last summer by trading for Leonard, who made it known that he wanted out of the San Antonio Spurs after an injury-plagued and drama-fuelled 2017-18 season. Reports indicated that Leonard did not have the Raptors on his list of desired trade locations, but the Raptors went through with the deal, hoping to make a run at a championship.
It all worked out, of course. The Raptors won their first ever NBA championship, and Leonard won NBA Finals MVP with an all-time great postseason run. Meanwhile, Raptors fans and the city of Toronto showered Leonard with love and praise.
Leonard’s entire season felt like a build-up to free agency. Reports said Leonard wanted to join one of the two Los Angeles teams, with the Clippers as front-runners, to move closer to home in Southern California. Most people in the NBA world believed the Raptors were more than long shots to retain Leonard.
A nearly perfect season might have changed Leonard’s calculation.
The Raptors weren’t the first team to trade for a superstar player with one year remaining on his contract. But if the Raptors are able to re-sign Leonard – even short-term – it could fuel a rising trend in the NBA.
Last summer, a league source told Business Insider that teams could become “emboldened” to trade for stars on expiring contracts after the Oklahoma City Thunder’s success with Paul George. The Thunder traded for George in 2017, with one year remaining on his deal and numerous rumours suggesting he would like to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
After one year in Oklahoma City, George was convinced to re-sign with the Thunder on a four-year $US134 million contract.
Leonard staying with the Raptors would be the second time a team’s gamble has paid off.
Some teams have still been hesitant to make moves for superstars approaching free agency. Anthony Davis is the most recent example. Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, told Sports Illustrated that Davis wanted to be traded to either the Lakers or New York Knicks and would not re-sign elsewhere. Several teams – including the Boston Celtics, who were believed to be able to put together the best package – balked at the asking price for Davis, presumably because he could leave after one year. The Lakers made the trade, in part because they think they will keep Davis long-term.
It’s unclear which star player will ask for a trade or hit the trading block next. But after the Raptors’ success with Leonard, other teams could go all-in on a superstar, hoping that a short-term rental becomes a long-term relationship.
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