Now, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports has reported that, as expected, Leonard will decline his player option to become an unrestricted free agent—and, less expected, that the Toronto Raptors are now favorites to pay the Board Man.
If Haynes' sources are correct, then Toronto may be primed for a second run at the Larry O'Brien trophy.
While true that Toronto is the only team that can present Leonard with a five-year, $189.7 million max deal (other teams can offer four years and $140.6 million), he is more likely to sign a one-plus-one contract.
If Leonard signs a two-year deal, in Toronto or elsewhere, he will be a 10-year, veteran free agent in 2021 with eligibility for the vet max (35 percent of the salary cap, which Spotrac projects at $121 million).
Haynes' sources suggest that "rival executives view his current team as the favorite to land him when the free-agent negotiating period begins."
Without word from Kawhi's camp, the expectations of rival executives are far from definitive. But it feels safe to say the Raptors have joined Leonard's hometown Los Angeles Clippers as front-runners to woo the superstar.
The free-agent negotiation period opens June 30, and one player whose decision has the potential to impact Leonard's is Al Horford.
First, Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported that Horford is drawing interest from the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. Then, NBC Sports Boston reporter A. Sherrod Blakely suggested that the Brooklyn Nets could be in play. Now, the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett isolated the Mavericks and Clippers as favorites to land the 33-year-old, five-time All-Star.
Committing big money to an older big man doesn't feel savvy, but Horford's game should age well and can help turn a team into a true contender.
The 6'10", 245-pound big can stretch the floor (38.2 percent from three in three years as a Celtic), spread the ball around (4.6 assists per game as a Celtic) and use his IQ and technique to play smart, well-positioned defense.
Although Jerry West doesn't seem likely to commit money to an aging star while his Clippers rebuild, that entire dynamic shifts depending on Leonard's interest. Similarly, Kawhi's taste for championship contention may be tempted by the prospect of joining Horford back home on a Los Angeles team that's not overshadowed by LeBron James.
Horford may choose to contend with a Los Angeles team or help a culture-driven organization like Dallas take its next steps, or, in a poetic twist, he may end up back with Kyrie Irving as the latter replaces D'Angelo Russell in Brooklyn.
The Russell situation is murky at best, as the Nets' aggressive interest in Irving has led to endless speculation about the renouncing of Russell's rights so that he can sign wherever he chooses. Two strong candidates are the Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves given his friendships with the Suns' Devin Booker and the Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns and each organization's needs for a franchise point guard.
"I would love to play with him," Booker told Greg Logan of Newsday (h/t NetsDaily) in November about how much he would like to team up with his longtime friend. Then, during the NBA draft, the Suns passed up on UNC point guard Coby White at No. 6 in a move down with the Timberwolves that landed Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric in Phoenix. Fittingly, the Timberwolves also passed up on White and selected wing Jarrett Culver instead.
As Karl-Anthony Towns told UPROXX in June, Minnesota's courting of Russell is loud and clear: "I pay very close attention to free agency. And D'Angelo is not getting whispers, he's getting more of a yell from a microphone."
And this has been echoed by Zach Lowe on his Lowe Post podcast (h/t RealGM):
"There has been a lot of Minnesota, D'Angelo Russell noise. And it's not all Karl Towns commenting on Instagram because they're friends. Minnesota has communicated to the league, not the NBA league, just the league at large that they believe they have a pathway to get D'Angelo Russell."
The financial situation doesn't work in Minnesota, but the roster fit does. If Timberwolves general manager Scott Layden is able to move some combination of Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, then Towns' microphone work may pay off. Look for Leonard, Horford and Russell to be among the biggest chips to fall once the free-agent negotiating period opens June 30.