Brian Windhorst: Raptors in 'Driver's Seat' for Kawhi Leonard Amid Trade Rumors

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2018

FILE - In this May 9, 2017, file photo, San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (2) waits during a timeout in the first half in Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets in San Antonio. The waiting for Leonard's season debut continues. San Antonio's All-Star forward did not travel with the Spurs to Miami and will not play Wednesday against the Heat. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

The Toronto Raptors are emerging as a favorite to land San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.

During an appearance on The Lowe Post podcast, ESPN's Brian Windhorst speculated the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers could be backing out of the Leonard sweepstakes, clearing the way for Toronto (h/t The Big Lead's Bobby Burack).

"I think [the Raptors are] in the driver's seat for Kawhi because I think the Lakers have given up, the Sixers have given up," Windhorst said. "And with the Nets, Bulls and Hawks spending their cap space, it makes it harder to assemble a multi-team trade. I think the Raptors are in the driver's seat."

There's no question the Raptors have a strong motivation to acquire Leonard.

LeBron James' move to the Los Angeles Lakers opens up the Eastern Conference a bit more and increased Toronto's odds of reaching the NBA Finals for the first time. By adding Leonard, the Raptors would potentially put themselves ahead of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in the conference title race.

However, Toronto may struggle to meet San Antonio's asking price.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are proven veterans, but neither player has taken his game to a higher level in the playoffs, which is where the Spurs would need them the most. Beyond OG Anunoby, the Raptors don't have a wealth of promising young stars, either.

And making up the difference with draft picks is unlikely to add much value since the Raptors almost certainly won't be a lottery team anytime soon.

Independent of that issue, some will question whether a Leonard trade is something the Raptors should even consider.

When he was healthy, Leonard was a top-five player with the ability to impact the game on both ends like few others in the league. Especially with the number of talented wings in the NBA, Leonard's perimeter defending is an invaluable skill.

The two-time All-Star appeared in just nine games in 2017-18, though, and his disappearing act this summer has only created more concern his quad injury is more serious than anybody realizes. Speaking with Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher, one general manager in the East highlighted the dilemma:

"It seems like every other player is putting out a video on social media of them working out. If Kawhi did one, he'd instantly get 35,000 hits, and half of them would be from NBA GMs. How can you make a deal or even an offer without knowing if he can play? He's got to be seen. If he came out and played in preseason and looked good, you'd definitely see teams trying harder to get him."

The Raptors have to capitalize on their championship window, but trading for Leonard might be too risky until he provides any evidence as to his overall health and ability on the court.