While the Los Angeles Lakers reportedly believe they're the front-runners for Kawhi Leonard, they've kept their confidence under wraps due to the reigning Finals MVP's desire to keep his free-agency process quiet.
Marc Stein of the New York Times reported the Lakers and Clippers in particular have avoided leaks as to not "upset" Leonard's camp. The Lakers believe they are "firmly in the lead" because of recruiting efforts led by Magic Johnson and LeBron James.
If we're reading the gambling tea leaves, the Lakers do appear to be the favorite. Caesars dropped their odds from +175 to +125 to win the championship earlier Tuesday, though that later moved back to +140. The Raptors, meanwhile, moved from +1400 to +1000—a strong sign that they're still in the mix. The Clippers appear to be the third-place team, with their title odds going from +800 to +1000.
Gambling odds are seemingly the best predictor at this point because Leonard's camp has given no indication of his leanings. It's known that Kawhi desperately wanted to return home last summer and play in Los Angeles before being sent to Toronto.
The Raptors gave Leonard everything they possibly could in a storybook season, which culminated in the franchise's first championship. They managed his workload, gave him a solid supporting cast and watched as the city embraced his offbeat personality.
The Lakers can offer a return home and instant championship contention playing alongside James and Anthony Davis. They have also allowed their chances at all other top free agents go by the wayside in an effort to attract Leonard, an all-in bet that could leave their rotation both without depth and a third star. That bet would signal a continued level of confidence but one that could easily backfire.
The Lakers, after all, have missed the playoffs the last six seasons and are coming off a campaign in which their front office looked borderline incompetent and overrun with internal conflict.
The Clippers offer home and a well-managed organization, equipped with a depth-laden roster not-too-dissimilar to the Raptors. However, the team missed out on securing a second star and probably would not be favorites in the West even with Leonard.