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Quite a bit has changed in both Kawhi Leonard's career and the entire NBA landscape since last summer. Leonard has flourished as the new face of the Toronto Raptors, the Eastern Conference found a new champion in "The North," and now the future power balance in the East rests on Leonard's upcoming decision this offseason.
There's plenty of speculation Leonard could be leaving Toronto this summer. However, with his recent leadership success and seamless fit in Toronto, doubt that the three-time NBA All-Star will even consider leaving his current team at all has also emerged.
Kawhi Leonard Contract & NBA Supermax Eligibility
Leonard has a $21.3 million player option that he can opt out of before June 30, shortly after the conclusion of the 2019 NBA Finals, but he is not currently eligible for an NBA supermax extension. Leonard is in the fourth season of a five-year, $94.3 million contract he signed with the San Antonio Spurs back in 2015. Keeping this in mind, here's a look at the most likely contenders to land Leonard if he decides to leave Toronto this summer.
4. Brooklyn Nets
After re-signing D'Angelo Russell, the Brooklyn Nets have the youth and cap flexibility to create an immediate contender in the East next year, if Leonard comes to town. They reportedly have ambitions of constructing their next roster in a way to bring in both Kevin Durant and Leonard. While it is unlikely they land both players, it's possible, and they could go from their 2018-19 finish as the No. 6 seed in the East to arguably the favorite to reach next year's Finals. Even without Durant, the Nets have young talent in Russell, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. Leonard could slide into either Joe Harris' or Jared Dudley's starting spot, and quickly elevate a Nets' scoring defense that ranked No. 19 in the NBA this season.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The same as the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers would provide Leonard the opportunity to return home and play in LA. He would also get to play with LeBron James, who has been recruiting both him and Jimmy Butler join him in Tinseltown. Adding Leonard and another star alongside James with the youth of the Lakers' core would likely put them in immediate position to make a run at a championship, but is this enough to overcome the recent drama in the Lakers' organization?
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi's interest in returning home to Los Angeles has certainly been well documented ever since this season started. Signing with the Clippers would fulfill this desire without the added drama an organizational disarray that comes with the Lakers. The Clippers also have a projected $53 million in cap space this summer, meaning they could bring in another star player alongside Leonard. Clippers' head coach Doc Rivers has been vocal about wanting Leonard, even comparing him to Michael Jordan recently, which earned the franchise a $50,000 fine for tampering.
1. Toronto Raptors
Though this certainly didn't seem to be the case when he was traded from the Spurs last summer, the easiest fit to imagine for Leonard has arguably become right where he is now in Toronto. The Raptors have gained home-court advantage over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and Leonard really seems to be enjoying himself. Winning always makes decisions easier, so if he leads Toronto to their first NBA title, he'll likely be worshiped to the end of days if he decides to stay in Canada. Locals have already been offering the man free food for life.
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