Kawhi Leonard

Clippers The Top Destination For Kawhi Leonard Next Summer?

Before Kawhi Leonard has even suited up for the Raptors, his top destination in free agency next summer is the Clippers, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. During an appearance on 710 ESPN Mason and Ireland, Shelburne labeled the Clippers as Leonard’s top pick with the Raptors his second choice and Lakers coming in third.

The Los Angeles native has reportedly preferred to end up back home with either the Lakers or Clippers. Several reports over the past year suggested that Leonard’s preference was joining the Lakers, who already signed LeBron James.

After a tumultuous and injured-riddled 2017/18 in San Antonio, the Spurs dealt their superstar to Toronto earlier this summer. Based on several reports, Leonard is excited and prepared for the upcoming season. Just last month, we relayed that Leonard was “keeping an open mind” about his future with the Raptors.

Early impressions on Leonard out of the Toronto camp have been positive. Recently, assistant coach Phil Handy provided an update on Leonard, who missed most of last season with a quad injury.

“He’s doing great,” Handy said. “He’s in great shape. Body looks good, he’s feeling good, he’s moving well. I don’t anticipate any issues or any problems. He’s working hard and he’s a hard worker.”

Earlier this week, Leonard’s longtime teammate with the Spurs and current teammate with the Raptors, Danny Green, opined that the two-time Defensive Player of the Year would have a hard time leaving Toronto.

“The city of Toronto is gonna be hard to turn down after being there,” Green said.

Atlantic Notes: Irving, Williams, Ojeleye, Celtics

Kyrie Irving tops the Knicks’ wish list in free agency next summer because he’s their most realistic target, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston opines. Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard would elevate the franchise even more than Irving but both of those potential free agents would be much harder to land, Blakely continues. Securing Irving’s services won’t be easy, either, but the Knicks have a better chance with the Celtics point guard, who grew up in New Jersey. It’s not only his ability but potential availability that makes him attractive to the Knicks’ front office, Blakely adds. Blakely declared that Irving topped the Knicks’ wish list during a podcast this week.

We have more from around the Atlantic Division:

  • Bringing in Alan Williams is a low-risk flier for the Nets, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes. The team has been stockpiling big men and rebounders and the 6’8” Williams fits both those categories, Lewis continues. It’s rare to land a fourth-year pro on a two-way contract who has averaged 15 rebounds per 36 minutes over his career, Lewis points out. Williams reached an agreement with Brooklyn on Friday.
  • Semi Ojeleye was probably the biggest beneficiary of Gordon Hayward’s injury last season but he hasn’t established a steady spot in the Celtics rotation, Blakely examines in a player profile. While Ojeleye has shown the ability to defend multiple frontcourt positions and switch out on guards, he’ll simply have to be ready to contribute any way he can with the return of Hayward, Blakely adds. Ojeleye appeared in 73 regular -season games last season.
  • With the return of Hayward and Irving from injuries, it’s tough to find any reason why the Celtics won’t roll to the Eastern Conference title, Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports opines. The team’s closest competitors – Toronto, Milwaukee and Philadelphia – can’t match the Celtics’ depth and overall talent, Mannix continues. Even the team’s projected second unit of Terry RozierMarcus SmartJaylen BrownMarcus Morris and Daniel Theis could compete for a playoff spot, Mannix notes.

Spurs Asked For Embiid Or Simmons For Leonard

Before the Spurs agreed on a Kawhi Leonard trade package focused around DeMar DeRozan, they were asking for much bigger names from the Sixers, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. (Hat tip to Dale Delgado of NBC Sports).

In his latest Lowe Post podcast, Lowe says Philadelphia turned down San Antonio offers that would have included Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. The Sixers were reluctant to part with stars in exchange for a player who isn’t guaranteed to stay beyond this season, and Embiid and Simmons are probably untouchable in any circumstances.

Another name that popped up in rumors was Markelle Fultz, whose rookie season was cut short by a combination of injuries and problems with his shooting form. However, Lowe says the Spurs were never interested in the top pick in the 2017 draft.

“There is no evidence that the Spurs wanted Fultz,” Lowe said. “I’ve been told the Spurs never asked for Fultz, and actively didn’t want Fultz, and in fact wanted one of the two big guys.”

Sixers guard J.J. Redick, who was a guest on Lowe’s podcast, defended Fultz and claimed he was poorly treated by the media last season.

Atlantic Rumors: Green, LeVert, Marks, Williams

Danny Green believes Kawhi Leonard will have a tough time leaving the city of Toronto once he settles in during his first season with the Raptors, Kurt Helin of NBC Sports relays. Green, who was included in the blockbuster deal that sent Leonard to Toronto, made the comment during an Inside the Green Room Podcast. “The city of Toronto is gonna be hard to turn down after being there. I’ve been going every summer for the past 10-plus years. It’s a great city and the fans are amazing. … I’m getting a great amount of feedback, a great amount of love and all types of different stuff from the fans. So it’s gonna be tough for him to turn down.” Leonard can opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

In other developments around the Atlantic Division:

  • LeVert played a total of 30 games at the point last season when D’Angelo Russell was injured, Milholen notes, and posted averages of 13.2 PPG and 4.8 APG in 27.2 MPG. Russell will start for Brooklyn and the Nets also have free agent addition Shabazz Napier at that spot. LeVert can also be viewed as a long-term insurance policy since Russell could become a restricted free agent next summer if he doesn’t sign an extension, Milholen adds.
  • The early returns on Sean Marks‘ first-round picks bode well for next June’s draft, Jason Max Rose of NetsDaily.com opines. The Nets GM found two valuable assets during the last two drafts in LeVert and starting center Jarrett Allen, even though those picks were in the bottom third of the first round, Rose notes. Thus, Marks and his staff have shown they can not only identify talent but develop players as well, Rose adds. The Nets could have two first-rounders in June, their own pick plus the Nuggets’ top-12 protected pick acquired this summer.
  • Dominating at the G League level would make for a successful rookie season for Celtics first-rounder Robert Williams, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. That’s where Williams will spend a good portion of the season, Blakely notes, and the big man must prove the left knee injury he’s dealing with won’t be a major issue. Williams also needs to show more maturity off the court, Blakely adds.

Atlantic Notes: Musa, Dudley, Knicks, Bird

Nets first-rounder Dzanan Musa has been bulking up since the draft in hopes of being physically prepared for the NBA, relays NetsDaily. In a weekend interview with with Radiosarajevo in Bosnia, Musa said he has been focused on “physical progress” and has gained 15 pounds this summer.

“As far as my physical predisposition is concerned, no one has to worry,” he said. “I have put on seven kilograms in a 25-day period, so I do not have to have any disadvantages by the start of the season, and I will try to give my team immediate input.”

The 29th overall selection has spent most of the summer at the Nets’ training facility, but recently returned home to Bosnia to participate in a pair of FIBA World Cup qualifying games.

There’s more news from the Atlantic Division:

  • Trade restrictions on the NetsJared Dudley will expire September 20, according to a separate story on NetsDaily outlining important upcoming dates for the team. That date will mark the two-month anniversary of the trade that sent Dudley from Phoenix to Brooklyn, and it will lift the restriction that he can only be dealt in one-for-one trades.
  • The Knicks picked up a pair of promising young players on one-year deals while preserving their cap space for next summer, writes Jesse Blancarte of Basketball Insiders in the season preview for New York. The Knicks signed Mario Hezonja for $6.5MM and Noah Vonleh for a non-guaranteed $1.6MM, giving them a year to see how much they can contribute before making long-term decisions. Blancarte also believes David Fizdale was the right choice to take over as coach.
  • Jabari Bird is under guarded watch at a Boston-area hospital following his arrest Friday on a “domestic incident,” tweets A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Bird is expected to be released from the hospital today or tomorrow and will be officially charged for his role in the incident.
  • The Raptors have scheduled a press conference for September 21 to introduce Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter link). Both were acquired from the Spurs in a mid-July trade.

Western Rumors: Rozier, Williams, Durant, Rockets

The Celtics’ Terry Rozier and the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie are two of the logical trade targets for the Suns in their search for a point guard, according to Frank Urbina of HoopsHype. Rozier is a solid two-way player coming off a career year but the Suns would likely have to offer a package that included an unprotected first-rounder to catch Boston’s attention. A trade for Dinwiddie would be more plausible and he’d be a good fit with Phoenix considering his size, perimeter shooting and pick-and-roll prowess, Urbina continues. The Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, the Cavaliers’ George Hill and the Hornets’ Kemba Walker are some of the other names Urbina throws out as potential targets. The Suns are searching for a starting point guard after trading away Brandon Knight to the Rockets last week.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Pelicans signed Troy Williams, Kenrich Williams and Garlon Green to partially-guaranteed contracts in the hope of finding one reliable small forward, Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate notes. That trio will compete for a roster spot, though the potential addition of swingman Tyrone Wallacesigned to an offer sheet on Monday — could change that. “They just told me they’re bringing some guys in and having them go head-on to see who wins a spot,” Kenrich Williams told Kushner.
  • By buying out Luol Deng‘s contract and using the stretch provision, the Lakers gave themselves a chance to offer Kevin Durant a max salary in free agency, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders examines. The Lakers now project to have $38.2MM in cap space, which would be just enough to afford Durant, Pincus continues. If they can’t land Durant, they’ll certainly have enough to bring in another All-Star level talent. Other high-level potential free agents, including Kawhi Leonard, Klay ThompsonDeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Walker and Kyrie Irving, could command a first-year salary of $33MM, leaving the Lakers with another $5MM to spend in other ways, Pincus adds.
  • The Rockets took a frugal approach this summer and it could cost them a title, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post opines. They traded away Ryan Anderson and allowed two key wing players to walk in free agency. In turn, they signed three players on veteran’s minimum deals and adding a couple of bench players in the Anderson trade, Bontemps notes. So while Houston execs had said they were unconcerned about the luxury tax, their actions showed they wanted to save some money, Bontemps adds.

Raptors Assistant: Kawhi Leonard Is ‘Doing Great’

Raptors assistant coach Phil Handy provided an encouraging health update on Kawhi Leonard during a recent appearance on Toronto Talk Sports (hat tip to Mitch Robson of The Score).

Handy expressed confidence that Leonard has mostly overcome the issues with his quad that limited him to nine games with the Spurs last season.

“He’s doing great,” Handy said. “He’s in great shape. Body looks good, he’s feeling good, he’s moving well. I don’t anticipate any issues or any problems. He’s working hard and he’s a hard worker.”

The Raptors acquired Leonard from San Antonio in July and added Handy to their coaching staff shortly afterward. He served as an assistant with the Cavaliers for the past three years and was in charge of player development for the last two.

Handy also discussed Leonard’s recent workout with LeBron James and Kevin Durant and said Leonard is fully focused on the season ahead.

“He’s a gamer man,” Handy said. “He is a gamer. Players like that just want to compete. … However [his situation with the Spurs] played out, however it happened, he’s just looking forward to what’s next and what’s in front of him right now and [putting] his best foot forward for the Raptors organization this season.”

Atlantic Notes: Kawhi, Sixers, Kanter, Smart

While it remains to be seen what version of Kawhi Leonard we – and the Raptors – will see in 2018/19 after the star forward missed all but nine games last season, the early reports on his health sound positive. A league source tells Ashish Mathur of Amico Hoops that Leonard looks “remarkable” during his summer workouts, and is at 100% after battling a troublesome quad injury for the better part of a year.

We should probably take those rave reviews of Leonard’s workouts with a grain of salt, given the anonymous nature of the source, but good news is still preferable to bad. The Raptors will enter the 2018/19 season with two crucial Leonard-related questions — is he healthy, and will he considered re-signing? Kawhi’s health is the more pressing issue in the short term, so Toronto should be encouraged by the progress being made by the former Finals MVP.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • In addition to announcing several front office promotions today, the Sixers also indicated that assistant coach Kevin Young has been promoted to the front of the team’s bench this season. Jim O’Brien, formerly an assistant on Brett Brown‘s staff, will now serve as a senior advisor to the head coach, per the club. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the changes.
  • In a conversation with ESPN’s Royce Young, Enes Kanter insisted that his decision to exercise his player option and remain with the Knicks in June wasn’t actually made until deadline day. Kanter had long been expected to opt in, but didn’t confirm the move until June 29. Kanter’s discussion with Young also includes some interesting comments about his home country of Turkey.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston doesn’t expect Marcus Smart‘s lucrative new contract with the Celtics to have any negative effects on his on-court production or effort in 2018/19, pointing out that Smart is still hungry for greater individual and team accomplishments.

Eastern Notes: Leonard, Galloway, Johnson, Ntilikina

Hiring Kawhi Leonard‘s close friend Jeremy Castleberry away from the Spurs as a player development coach was a wise move by the Raptors, in the view of Danny Green, as Steven Loung of SportsNet Canada details.

Green was traded along with Leonard to Toronto and the Raptors are hoping to convince Leonard to re-sign with them next summer. The addition of Castleberry should help the cause, according to Green

“It’s good to have (Castleberry) on board. Hopefully, it helps Kawhi feel more comfortable at home and keeps him in the city that they want to keep him here,” Green said. “Obviously (the Raptors) traded for him for a reason. They think they can sell him. … It’s an amazing city in Toronto. So the city sells itself. … And now you have your best friend with you. What else could you ask for?”

We have more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Langston Galloway was a major disappointment in his first season with the Pistons and he’ll have a tough time making the rotation, Ansar Khan of MLive writes. Galloway didn’t fare well when he played the point on occasion and posted career lows in several categories while mostly seeing action at shooting guard, Khan continues. Galloway, who has two years left on his $21MM contract, has plenty of competition at the guard spots in the upcoming season, Khan adds.
  • Pistons small forward Stanley Johnson could blossom in coach Dwane Casey’s first season, Khan writes in another post. Casey has praised Johnson’s work ethic and feels that Johnson has untapped scoring potential, Khan continues. Johnson became more aggressive going to the basket last season but needs to improve his outside shooting, Khan adds.
  • Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (France) and Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen (Finland) will not play for their national teams in FIBA World Cup qualifiers next month, according to a Sportando report. Both players will focus on preparing for their second season in the NBA, the report adds.

Kawhi Leonard Keeping ‘Open Mind’ About Future With Raptors?

While a report earlier this week stated that Kawhi Leonard‘s preference for next year is still to play in Los Angeles, joining either the Lakers or Clippers in free agency, that doesn’t mean that he has made up his mind about this being a one-and-done season with the Raptors. Appearing on TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto, Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News expressed a belief that Toronto has a chance to re-sign Leonard in 2019.

“Based off of me talking to people within his circle, they’re going to go into this thing with an open mind and give this thing every last opportunity to work,” Young said, according to Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports. “Obviously, I think part of his mind, yes, let’s keep it real: I think he still feels like L.A. might be the destination, but the same time, he plans to go into this thing with an open mind, giving it every single shot in the world to make it work.”

When the Raptors agreed to trade for Leonard last month, team president Masai Ujiri did so with a “determination” that he could convince the star forward to remain with the franchise for more than one year, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted earlier this week. The Raptors are already taking early steps to try to win over Leonard, having reached a deal to hire former Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry, who is good friends with Kawhi.

Even if Leonard still favors Los Angeles for now, much can change over the course of a year. The Lakers and Clippers aren’t necessarily locks to make the playoffs in an incredibly competitive Western Conference, so if both L.A. teams have down years and a healthy Leonard helps lead the Raptors to a deep postseason run, that would presumably have an impact on his thinking as he hits the open market in 2019.

Leonard technically remains under contract for two more seasons, but can decline a 2019/20 player option and become a free agent next summer.