It's always kind of weird to be talking about where a player will end up when he still has almost an entire season to play with his current team (Cleveland fans sure know how that is). And yet that's exactly where we are with Kawhi Leonard, since so many people who would seem to know what the hell they're talking about think he'll end up in Los Angeles when he signs a new deal next summer.
History tells us that means there's a very good chance he'll find his way onto the Lakers' roster. However, according to an informal survey conducted by ESPN's Tim Bontemps, the Clippers are actually the team that league insiders expect him to end up with.
As Bontemps writes, this is because linking up with the Clippers would give him the opportunity to "have control of his own team." More specifically:
A survey of several league executives this weekend had the Lakers trailing, even among Staples Center tenants, in the competition to get Leonard, with the LA Clippers universally being placed ahead of them. Rather than seeking to team up with James, the thinking is that Leonard would prefer to have control of his own team, which the Clippers would offer, while still giving him the ability to return to his native Southern California.
The Lakers explored a potential Leonard trade this summer, but the San Antonio Spurs’ asking price prevented a deal from ever coming close to fruition. The Clippers, meanwhile, have relentlessly pursued Leonard since the summer but didn’t have the assets necessary to get a deal done.
Again, it's kind of weird to write about this so early in the 2018-19 season, especially when Toronto is 9-1 and tied for the best record in the NBA. As you can see by the way Bontemps' first paragraph is phrased, it doesn't appear to execs. to be a two team race. As for what the Raptors' pitch will be if/when Leonard tests the market, the team's president Masai Ujiri said the following on The Woj Pod back in September:
"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."
Ujiri also said that Toronto has a "quiet confidence" that they can get him to stick around. Anyway, we wish anyone trying to figure this out by getting a read off of Kawhi himself the best of luck. Until then, more rumors.