Toronto Raptors: What to do if Kawhi Leonard leaves or stays this summer

NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

 Exploring what the Toronto Raptors need to do in the event that Kawhi Leonard leaves or stays this summer

Two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard has officially declined his $21.3 million player option for the 2019-20 season, which will make him an unrestricted free agent on June 30th. In other words, there’s a chance that his time with the Toronto Raptors is over.

Ever since last summer it has been well documented that Kawhi Leonard has had a strong desire to sign a long term contract in his home state of California. The most common team linked to Kawhi has been the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, after a successful season with the Raptors, which ended with an NBA championship and a Finals MVP award, Kawhi’s decision has become far more difficult. From all indications, Kawhi’s decision will likely come down to Toronto or Los Angeles.

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Nevertheless, we will never truly know what Kawhi’s decision will be until free agency begins. However, his decision could have a major impact on the future of the Raptors organization.

Let’s breakdown what Toronto should do in either event.

Kawhi Leonard re-signs with the Raptors

Kawhi Leonard re-signing with the Raptors would be the best case scenario for the franchise in the short term. First of all, the Raptors currently have at least one more year of contention with this roster as Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol‘s contracts all expire next season. This means if Kawhi re-signs, it gives the Raptors an even better opportunity to repeat as NBA champions.

It also helps that the Eastern Conference can drastically change with free agency, which means we could see teams like the Boston Celtics drop out of title contention. This would put Toronto as the clear favorites to come out of the East with Kawhi possibly being the best player in the conference.

Not to mention if Kawhi does indeed sign a long-term deal in Toronto, it gives the franchise an even greater opportunity to continue to build around him as the current core ages out.

Therefore, the ideal case for the Raptors if Kawhi re-signs is to bring back the championship roster to try and make a run at a repeat. Gasol has already opted into his player option for next season, which means the team would need to shift to re-signing Danny Green next.

Overall, if Kawhi stays, it really gives the Raptors the clearest possible future, which is to continue to compete for a championship for at least another season.

Kawhi signs with the Los Angeles Clippers

In the event that Kawhi Leonard decides to move on and sign with another team, it gives the Raptors many different avenues they could take to rebuild.

The first and probably the most likely scenario is the Raptors could look to move one of their bigger sized contracts to clear up cap space to sign a quality free agent.

This player would most likely be Serge Ibaka, who had a solid bounce-back year with the Raptors this past season. Ibaka is currently on an expiring deal worth about $23 million, paired with his age makes him the easiest to move while also creating a lot more cap space for the Raptors.

With moving Ibaka, the Raptors will have enough cap space to go after players such as Jimmy Butler, or even Khris Middleton. Alternatively, the Raptors could also use that cap space to sign multiple quality role players to help add depth to the team.

Overall, if Kawhi leaves, the Raptors still have a good chance of competing in the East as long as they find a suitable replacement for Leonard.

The other avenue the Raptors could take is clearing up as much cap space as possible and roll with their young players (Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell). This would mean trading away most of their expiring contracts in Ibaka, Gasol, and Lowry to flip them for young assets and draft capital.

This would remove the Raptors from potential title contention, however it gives the team the best future to build around a young and talented core as well as financial flexibility moving forward.

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As mentioned earlier we will never truly know what Kawhi Leonard’s decision will be until free agency begins on June 30th. However, the Raptors have great options either way that will benefit them in the short term or the long term depending on the direction Masai Ujiri decides to take the franchise past the 2019 NBA offseason.