NBA executives reportedly believe the Los Angeles Clippers hold an edge over the Los Angeles Lakers in the race to land Toronto Raptors superstar forward Kawhi Leonard during the 2019 free-agency period.
Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com surveyed a number of league executives, who gave the Clippers the edge since Leonard would be able to "have control of his own team" as compared to playing second fiddle to LeBron James with the Lakers.
The San Antonio Spurs traded Leonard to the Raptors in July with one guaranteed season left on his five-year, $94.3 million contract. He can utilize a player option in the deal to become a free agent at season's end, and speculation has frequently linked the Los Angeles native with a return to L.A.
Leonard, who made just nine appearances for the Spurs last season because of a lingering quad injury, has showcased a return to form early in his Raptors career. He's averaged 26.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 steals across seven games.
"We are who we are. We are going to be prepared, we are going to make things as smooth ... I think you want to be genuine, you want to be real. You know, this is who we are. We might not be the best ones in weather, but we might be the best ones in many other places: the diversity, the city, the uniqueness of a place like [Toronto], fans, the atmosphere. I think those things are so unique, it's beginning to show everywhere.
"And then you have to put the basketball together. Maybe before the basketball wasn't a part of it, but I know there's a part of him that I'm sure thinks this team has a chance. With his teammates and seeing how hard these guys are working. We have to show who we are. There is no fake sales job here—this is what it is."
Bontemps reported the Raptors maintain a "quiet confidence about their ability to get him to stick around" despite the expected interest from elsewhere in the NBA.
Toronto's case should improve if it continues to establish itself as one of the league's top teams, as has been true during the team's 9-1 start.
That said, both L.A. teams figure to become heavily involved if Leonard does opt out and enter free agency next year.
Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher reported in July the Lakers are "confident" in their ability to attract him in free agency. Meanwhile, 57.6 percent of an ESPN.com panel in August predicted he'll land with the Lakers compared to 27.3 percent for the Raptors and 15.1 percent for the Clippers.
The uncertainty should make things interesting if he does decide to leave Toronto.
Richard Jefferson was the guest on the latest edition of The Full 48 podcast and spoke about James, the Lakers and much more. To hear the Lakers discussion, jump to 47:46.