Report: Kawhi Leonard Expected to Join LeBron James' Lakers or Clippers in FA

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2018, file photo, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard handles a ball before an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns in San Antonio. A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press, Friday, June 15, 2018, that Leonard has told the Spurs that he would like to be traded this summer, the clearest sign yet that the relationship between the team and the All-Star is in disrepair. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Kawhi Leonard is reportedly still expected to land with either the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers during the 2019 NBA free-agent period after getting traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors last month.

On Wednesday, Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported the Raptors face a "tall order" to convince Leonard to remain in Toronto as "most around the league" anticipate he'll sign with an L.A. team.

The 27-year-old Southern California native can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season by declining a player option in his contract.

Leonard appeared in just nine games during his final season with the Spurs because of a lingering quad injury. Uncertainty about his recovery timetable and his decision to spend portions of the rehab away from the organization caused a rift with the franchise that led to his departure.

San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich often mentioned the small forward's "group" when asked when the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year would return.

"You'll have to ask Kawhi and his group that question," Popovich told reporters in April. "So far, they say that he's not ready to go, so we can't do anything until that happens…and then we would have to decide what's going on from there. But that's the first thing that has to happen."

The Spurs dealt him to Toronto on July 18 along with Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri said the injury situation created an opportunity to make the blockbuster move, and the front office took the chance.

"All I'll say is, without all this medical drama that there is, we have no chance of talking to a player like that—zero," he said. "You have no chance. He would be signed to a new (San Antonio contract) and we wouldn't have a chance to get him."

Now the organization has 11 months to convince him to sign an extension or risk losing him on the open market.

A move to Los Angeles has long been pegged as Leonard's destination. The biggest question may be whether he wants to become LeBron James' sidekick with the Lakers or become the centerpiece of the Clippers.

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