Short-Term Deal Benefits Both Kawhi and Toronto


The Toronto Raptors are one win away from their first NBA Championship. For the first time ever, the basketball landscape has focused in on Canada. Celebrities as famous as Barack Obama and Drake were in attendance for games in Toronto. Yet all anyone can talk about is Kawhi Leonard.

Not only is Leonard playing MVP-level basketball these playoffs, but his off-court life has been much more eventful than the reserved superstar is used to. First and foremost is his pending free agency, a topic that the media loves to discuss. These talks have ballooned due to the recent reports that he has purchased a property in the Toronto area. In addition to this, Leonard has reportedly sued Nike over the usage of his previous Klaw logo.

While Kawhi is undoubtedly focusing on the Finals, these recent reports show that he is thinking about his next steps. Therefore, so will we. While the thinking all along has been that he would sign a max contract, a different option has started to circulate. Leonard could sign a one-year contract plus a one-year player option at a max salary. This would guarantee him one more season with the Raptors, and he would delay the decision on whether to make it a second. Short deals are not an innovative option, as both LeBron James and Kevin Durant have taken this approach to free agency over the past few years. Regardless of the validity of the reports, it brings a new option for the future of Kawhi in Toronto.


Why is it beneficial for Kawhi?

The NBA is notoriously known for being a star’s league. Top players receive millions of dollars in endorsements and hours of yearly media coverage. Due to this, although the success of the team is vitally important in free agency decisions, it inevitably comes down to the players. Despite a lack of financial security, a short term extension provides the most upside for Leonard. At age 27, he is just reaching his athletic peak, and is the same age that Durant took his 1+1 deal. However, even at 28 or 29, Leonard is unlikely to be in decline. Barring some unforeseen drop off in his late twenties, Leonard will hit the market again in top form.

This season has also seen Kawhi rise in global popularity. With his unorthodox attitude, endorsement with New Balance and his infamous laughing meme, Leonard is no longer hidden in Texas. He has reached legendary status in Toronto, where restaurants, bars and even realtors are lining up to serenade him. The fans entered this season with the goal to make him fall in love with the city, and they’ve had over 50 home games to leave a mark. Kawhi knows that his popularity is at an all-time high. While a short-term move offers less financial incentive, it allows him to ride out the momentum that he’s gained north of the border.

It seems likely that Leonard will want to end up in Los Angeles eventually. It was one reason why he forced his way out of San Antonio last season. However, leaving a contending roster for the Lakers or Clippers is a risky move. A short-term deal allows him to wait and see what moves each team makes to further his appeal. If a Los Angeles team provides a good opportunity, he can opt out of his deal and head west. While the constant background of free agency every year may be annoying to deal with, Leonard’s ability to analyze the market multiple times during his prime could be the best decision as he heads into his thirties.

Why is it beneficial for Toronto?

At first glance, Toronto not signing Kawhi to a long term deal may be seen as a failure. However, Kawhi’s newfound flexibility also results in a flexible situation for the Raptors. Right now, Toronto is currently in salary cap purgatory. Next year they are committing $82 million dollars for the trio of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, assuming the latter two accept their player options. With the salary cap set at around $100 million next season, any deal with Leonard would put them into the luxury tax with just four players under contract. However, after next season, all three of those contracts terminate. With all of them on the wrong side of 30, their play may decline, but so will their salaries.

During the summer of Kawhi’s player option, the Raptors would have cap space to make a splash. Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis and even DeMar DeRozan will be on the open market. Pair one of those players with Kawhi alongside the progression of Pascal Siakam and a reinvigorated championship roster is born. If Kawhi signed a long term deal, his contact would clog up their free agency possibilities in 2020. In addition, should Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka’s decline be larger than expected and Toronto struggles next year, they can pull the plug. Kawhi can depart and save the Raptors over $30 million that they can use to rebuild around Siakam.

The possibilities of a short-term deal for Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors are endless. It creates financial and strategical flexibility for both sides for the next two years. The risk of injury for Kawhi looms large, but in the words of Fred VanVleet, he must bet on himself. His ability to win more with Toronto, and still head to Los Angeles in his prime, is a choice he shouldn’t pass up. He could secure legendary status in Canada and propel his hometown Lakers or Clippers to unseen glory. If Kawhi’s career can follow that path, it would truly be a win-win.



About Matthew Winick

Matthew Winick is an avid basketball fan both from the NBA side, as well as NCAA hoops. A native of Toronto, Ontario, he is a lifetime Raptors fan and is just now reaping the benefits. He is currently studying Sport Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, and hopes to be talking sports with the best of them in his future. You can reach him on any social media @matthewwinick.

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