Kawhi Leonard

Raptors Rumors: Leonard, Lowry, George

Despite playing only half their games so far this season with both of their All-Stars – Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry – in the lineup, the Raptors have one of the NBA’s best records. Their 30-12 mark puts them a half-game ahead of the 28-11 Bucks, though they technically trail Milwaukee by percentage points.

With Lowry now back in the lineup after battling back and hip issues and Leonard potentially ready to start playing in back-to-backs soon, the Raptors are well positioned for a big second half. And the team’s performance the rest of the way – and in the postseason – could go a long way toward determining whether Leonard remains in Toronto beyond this season, a subject Chris Mannix explores in his latest piece for SI.com.

Mannix’s article features several interesting notes and tidbits on Kawhi and the Raptors, so we’ll round up a few highlights here:

  • According to Mannix, the Raptors are prepared to offer Leonard a five-year, maximum-salary offer – or any other deal he’s interested in – this offseason, and don’t view that sort of an investment as a risk.
  • While Leonard’s upcoming free agency is rarely discussed in the Raptors’ locker room, everyone knows how important his decision will be in determining the future of the franchise, per Mannix. “We need him to stay,” Serge Ibaka said. “He keeps everybody safe — no one is safe if he leaves.”
  • Even before the Raptors acquired Leonard, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri had been itching to shake up his roster, according to Mannix, who reports that Ujiri approached the Thunder last season about a possible swap centered around DeMar DeRozan and Paul George.
  • Speaking of George, Mannix writes that Raptors officials have privately acknowledged that the Thunder’s success in retaining George emboldened them to roll the dice on Leonard. Of course, George’s bond with Russell Westbrook contributed in large part to PG13’s decision to remain in Oklahoma City. It remains to be seen if Kyle Lowry can be that same sort of recruiter, given his “frosty” relationship with Ujiri, who traded away his best friend DeRozan.
  • When the NBA issued a memo last month reminding teams of its anti-tampering rules, it was viewed by most as a response to LeBron James‘ comments about Anthony Davis. However, several clubs, including Toronto, interpreted the memo’s reference to “intentional” and “repeated” social courtesies as a message to the Clippers, says Mannix. The Clips have reportedly been sending officials, including president of basketball ops Lawrence Frank, to a number of Raptors games this season as they eye Leonard as a 2019 free agent target.

Raptors/Spurs Notes: Kawhi, DeRozan, Popovich

The Raptors and Spurs are set to face one another on Thursday night for the first time since consummating their blockbuster offseason trade nearly six months ago. Predictably, discussion this week has centered on Kawhi Leonard‘s return to San Antonio and DeMar DeRozan‘s first game against the team with whom he thought he’d spend the rest of his career.

In his latest deep dive for ESPN.com, however, Tim Bontemps focuses less on last summer’s trade and more on the Raptors’ plan to keep Leonard beyond this season. Within his piece, Bontemps shares a series of interesting details on Nick Nurse‘s first meeting with Kawhi, the Raptors’ strategy for managing their superstar’s health, and the franchise’s belief that it has built the sort of culture in Toronto that will help convince Leonard to re-sign.

“When we came aboard six years ago, we wanted to bring this organization to a level where you can make this pitch,” Toronto GM Bobby Webster said. “So you have strength in excellence around the organization — the basketball side, the coaching staff, the medical and support staff, obviously ownership — to where when we have a superstar player, an MVP-candidate-type player, now we can go to him and say, ‘We are really confident in who we are, we’re really proud of what we’ve built, and these are all the reasons why we think you should stay.'”

According to Bontemps, the “popular opinion among league executives” for now is that Leonard’s decision could come down to the Raptors vs. the Clippers. While the Raps are doing their best to sell Kawhi on the city and the franchise, the Clippers can offer two things Toronto can’t — an opportunity to return home to Los Angeles and year-round warm weather. It remains to be seen how important those factors will be and what other factors Leonard will seriously weigh, and he’s not offering any hints.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Leonard told Bontemps when asked about his upcoming free agency. “I’m focused on right now, what this is bringing for me and focused on the opportunity that I have here and what we can do this season. Later down the road, that’s when I’ll make my decision.”

Here’s more on the Raptors and Spurs, with a focus on the two stars involved in July’s blockbuster:

  • Speaking to reporters, including Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich downplayed the importance of Thursday’s reunion, calling it a “waste of our time” to rehash the details of Leonard’s exit from San Antonio. “You move on in life,” he said. “We’re not going to redo what’s happened in the past in any way, shape or form. It’s of no consequence at this point, and it does no good to go backward and talk about this, that or the other.”
  • For what it’s worth, within his story on Leonard (detailed above), Bontemps reports that Popovich, who said in November that Leonard “wasn’t a leader,” has regretted making those comments — and the way that they were perceived.
  • Jabari Young of The Athletic takes a look at Thursday’s reunion from both sides, citing one source close to Leonard who says the All-Star forward doesn’t hold any hard feeling toward the Spurs. Meanwhile, a source close to DeRozan offered the following assessment of DeMar’s impressions of the Spurs’ organization: “He has never experienced the amount of professionalism from a day-to-day basis from a coach, GM, or organization that he has in his short term in San Antonio.”
  • DeRozan spoke a little more this week about unexpectedly being traded by the Raptors, telling reporters – including Eric Koreen of The Athletic – that he had wanted to remain with the team and “break every single record” in Toronto. “Sometimes you don’t get in life the opportunity to marry the woman you felt was the woman of your dreams,” DeRozan said. “So, it just happens that way.”

Danny Green Talks Spurs, Raptors, Free Agency

When the Raptors and Spurs made their blockbuster trade last July, discussion and analysis of that deal focused on the big pieces: Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. However, Danny Green, who was sent from San Antonio to Toronto in the swap, has proven this season that he wasn’t just included in that trade as a throw-in.

In his first 38 games with the Raptors, Green has averaged 9.5 PPG on .438/.408/.933 shooting and has been a key part of many of the club’s most productive lineups. For the season, Green has a total plus-minus of +374, which leads the NBA by a huge margin — teammate Kyle Lowry is second at +283.

In advance of his first game in San Antonio as a Raptor on Thursday night, Green spoke to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca about how he found out about being traded, his experiences playing with Kawhi, and his 2019 free agent decision, among other topics. Here are a few of the highlights from that discussion:

On his time with the Spurs:

“It was the organization that groomed me. It’s kind of where I grew up in this league, became professional and learned how to be one… spending so many years with Timmy, Tony, Manu and Pop, of course, I learned how to win, how to be successful and played in some very fun games, battles, big stages, so it was a blessing all around. It was a great part of my career, great stage and it helped me get to where I am today and hopefully I can carry that on to wherever it is I’m at.”

On how he felt about being traded to the Raptors:

“I’m a positive person. I look at things in a positive light, that’s human nature, or my nature anyway. I already knew how [the Raptors] played… the more I watched and the more I studied I thought: ‘You know what? This could be a really good fit.’ And the fact I was going with [Leonard] helped even more.”

On his 2019 free agency:

“Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen after this year. I would love to still be here [with the Raptors], obviously, but we don’t know. We don’t know where [Leonard’s] going to be, we don’t know a lot of things [that] are going to happen. In terms of decision making, [Leonard’s future] affects everybody.

“… If [Leonard] stays, they might want to bring everybody back; if he leaves, they might want to change, who knows? We’re both grown, we can make our own decisions for our own families. We might sit down and talk about it to see what page he’s on and how he feels about something and how I feel, but at this point we’re not thinking about that or talking about it. We’re trying to play good basketball… and get everybody healthy and winning games. Hopefully at the end of the year we can celebrate some things, outside of free agency.”

Stein’s Predictions: Davis, Leonard, Durant, Cousins

Anthony Davis will turn down a “supermax” extension from the Pelicans, setting up a frenzied competition between the Lakers and Celtics to pull off a trade, predicts Marc Stein of the New York Times in his latest newsletter. It’s one of several prognostications the veteran basketball writer offers up in a New Year’s Day column, but it’s the most explosive and one that will dominate NBA headlines throughout the summer if it comes true.

Davis could short-circuit the story by accepting the offer from New Orleans, which would pay him close to $240MM. But Stein expects Davis to value a shot at winning over money and look to join a loaded lineup in either Los Angeles or Boston. Stein also predicts the Lakers will be aggressive in trying to talk the Pelicans into a deal before the February 7 deadline while there’s not another strong suitor in sight. The Celtics can’t trade for Davis until Kyrie Irving opts out of his current deal because of an NBA rule prohibiting a team from acquiring two players currently on designated rookie extensions through trade.

Stein offers a few more significant personnel-related predictions:

  • Despite Kawhi Leonard‘s success in Toronto, Stein expects him to sign with the Clippers in July. He adds that the Raptors will likely need to win a title to keep their new star from heading home to Southern California in free agency and predicts Toronto will start rebuilding if Leonard leaves, including a trade of Kyle Lowry.
  • Kevin Durant may spend one more season with the Warriors before looking to move on in free agency. Stein admits there’s a lot of chatter about Durant joining the Knicks, but he believes the allure of playing in the new Chase Center will keep him him around for another year.
  • A “wise insider” tells Stein that DeMarcus Cousins will consider returning to the Warriors for another season, although they can only offer a modest raise on his $5.3MM salary. Stein expects other prominent free agents, such as Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson, to stay where they are.
  • Carmelo Anthony, currently in limbo on the Rockets‘ roster while looking for his next NBA opportunity, may have played his last game. It has been nearly two months since Anthony was last on the court and it doesn’t appear anyone is willing to take a chance on him, even at a minimum salary.
  • Kevin Love trade talks will heat up soon, and Stein believes the Nuggets should get involved as they try to hold onto the top spot in the West. Love is projected to return from toe surgery this month and will become eligible to be dealt on January 24, a little more than two weeks before the deadline.

Raptors Notes: Leonard, Anunoby, Miles

The Raptors are about ready to start playing Kawhi Leonard in back-to-back games, relays Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Leonard was limited to nine games last season with a quad injury and Toronto hasn’t used him on consecutive nights since acquiring him in an offseason trade. However, coach Nick Nurse told reporters tonight that it will happen soon.

“I think we are there,” Nurse said. “I think, after we get here to the new year, we’ll be there. No promises, but I think we’re there.”

Leonard is posting MVP-level numbers in his first season in Toronto, averaging 26.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He was inactive tonight after scoring 37 points Friday. It’s the ninth game he has missed this season, with five of those being classified as “load management.” The next back-to-back on the Raptors’ schedule will be January 5 and 6 against the Bucks and Pacers.

There’s more from north of the border:

  • Leonard is still bitter over a comment from Kevin Durant four years ago, which could provide complications for any team hoping to add both star free agents, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. After Leonard was named MVP of the 2014 Finals, Durant seemed to dismiss the accomplishment, saying he was a product of the Spurs’ system.
  • OG Anunoby provided a glimpse of the talent that some people have been raving about in Friday’s win over the Cavaliers, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Starting for the fourth time this season, Anunoby tied his career highs with 21 points and eight rebounds. “I was planning on his growth being really a big leap forward this year,” Nurse said before the game. “For any number of reasons it hasn’t happened yet, but I still believe in the guy. I still believe we’re going to see that.” Anunoby is a versatile defender in addition to his offensive skills, but Smith notes that it’s hard to carve out minutes for him when the lineup is fully healthy.
  • Norman Powell‘s return from injury could squeeze C.J. Miles out of the rotation, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. The 31-year-old has seen his production regress in his second season with Toronto, averaging 5.1 PPG in 28 games while shooting .315 from the floor and .286 from 3-point range. He has an $8.73MM player option for next season.

Clippers Continue To Have Eyes For Kawhi

The Clippers continue to be obsessed with the top of the 2019 free agency class and with a recent report reiterating Kawhi Leonard‘s desire to be in Los Angeles, Steve Ballmer‘s squad isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. The Raptors are not concerned with the Clippers’ efforts, as aggressive as they may be, team sources tell Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Raptors officials have previously claimed that a Clippers’ employee has attended about three-quarters of Toronto’s games this season but a source tells Amick that the figure is closer to 25%. Still, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and his team in the front office are doing everything within the league’s rules to up the odds of the franchise landing the former NBA Finals MVP.

NBA squads are allowed to gather as much intel about rival players as possible that might shape their free agency pitch, including both on and off court information. There’s a grey area when it comes to distinguishing the lines between research and recruiting, Amick explains. Teams are not allowed to recruit directly, though they can build relationships with people around a free-agent-to-be.

Up until recently, Leonard was unaware Clippers’ officials had been attending his games nor did he know what Frank even looked like, as Amick details. The scribe was with the head of the Clippers’ front office directly after last week’s game between the two squads. Leonard briefly embraced Amick while ignoring the front office executive and although some may see this as a case of Leonard and Frank consciously creating a ruse in front of a media member, Leonard simply isn’t wired that way, Amick writes.

Many within the league believe that the next six months will play a big part in determining Leonard’s decision. How far Toronto goes in the playoffs and how well he clicks with his coach, teammates, and the city will be factors. One source close to the situation pegs Leonard’s chances of staying up north as “50-50.”

Teammate Kyle Lowry isn’t sure if Leonard will call Toronto home long-term but the point guard is certain that Leonard is enjoying his time on the court.

“We don’t have to read him, because he talks to us,” Lowry said of Leonard. “He’s our teammate. He’s a guy we talk to every day. He’s awesome. He’s enjoying being back on the floor playing basketball at a high level. That’s what he’s really enjoying. I think he missed playing basketball last year, and I think people take that [for granted] When you lose the game for a little while, you’re like, ‘Man, that’s a tough thing.’ But when you get it back, it’s like, ‘Wow.’

“I don’t know [if Toronto fits him]. That’s a question where his individualized personality is going to have to step in [and determine it].”

Atlantic Notes: Fizdale, Butler, Raptors, Kornet

David Fizdale was asked to give his thoughts on Bulls players threatening to revolt against coach Jim Boylen after a series of harsh practices, and the new Knicks coach gave a response about his players that should bring confidence to fans in New York.

Since being hired as head coach, Fizdale has preached the importance of keeping a healthy culture. The Knicks’ poor culture before Fizdale’s arrival is well-documented and in the past, but it’s something he’ll vigorously work to keep his team away from. When asked if he’d ever consider running a Boylen-style practice, however, Fizdale laughed.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. “I wouldn’t rule it out. But at the end of the day, I can’t even think about what’s going on in Chicago. I’ve got a house full of young ’uns that I’ve got to take care of. But you know every coach has got to handle their situation the way that they see fit. I can only speak for my group. I feel like I’ve established a good trust with these guys so they know if I do pull something, it’s probably worthwhile and that they deserve it. So that’s how I view when I really want to crack down on them, I’m hoping that I’ve gotten to a place with these guys that they know it’s coming from the right place.”

Fizdale’s last job as an assistant was with the Heat, a team with one of the proudest, hard-working atmospheres in the NBA. He quickly learned the importance of keeping a team together both on the hardwood and off, and has brought those principles to his new job with the Knicks this season.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Jimmy Butler has positively impacted the Sixers despite not playing in the past two games, Brian Seltzer of NBA.com writes. Butler has encouraged and assisted his teammates from the sidelines when needed, becoming a vocal leader for the team. “He just is an incredible example of professionalism to our guys,” coach Brett Brown said. “His resume speaks for itself, and that’s all under the fact that, as I see it, he loves his job. He loves basketball.”
  • The Raptors have their core for the future regardless of what Kawhi Leonard chooses to do in free agency, Shams Charania explains in a video for Stadium. Leonard will become a free agent on July 1, and could consider joining the Clippers if he leaves Toronto. Outside of Leonard, the Raptors currently sport a core group of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas.
  • Knicks center Luke Kornet has a golden opportunity to prove he deserves to be in New York past this season, Marc Berman of the New York post writes. Kornet is expected to receive more playing time in the coming games as Mitchell Robinson copes with an ankle injury. He recorded 13 points, six rebounds, two steals and three blocks in the team’s overtime victory against the Hornets on Friday.

Woj: L.A. Remains The Focus For Kawhi Leonard

Things are going well for Kawhi Leonard in Toronto, but he hasn’t given up on the idea of playing in Los Angeles, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said during a broadcast today that focused on trade and free agency rumors. (Hat tip to Real GM.)

Leonard’s desire to return to his home town and his refusal to commit to a long-term deal after this season were the main reasons the Spurs decided to trade him away during the summer. Leonard is considered certain to opt out of his $21.3MM salary for next season and become a free agent in July.

The Raptors, who are off to a 23-8 start, worked out a deal in hopes that a successful season could convince Leonard to stay in Toronto, but Wojnarowski suggests that may not be enough.

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” he said. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

The Lakers and Clippers should both have enough cap space to offer max contracts next summer, but there have been reports that Leonard doesn’t want to accept a supporting role to LeBron James. That makes the Clippers the favorites if Leonard decides to leave Toronto, and they have been acting the part with a visible contingent at many of the Raptors’ games, including president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank.

“They’re treating this like a college recruitment,” Wojnarowski added. “… To have the president of the organization show up in Toronto, in Milwaukee, just sitting there, players are seeing him. … It’s a unique way they’re going about this.”

Atlantic Notes: Korkmaz, Irving, Knicks, Leonard

Despite being unhappy with his playing time in October, Furkan Korkmaz has received more opportunities in the past few weeks with the Sixers. Korkmaz has played in 15 of the 76ers’ last 16 games, scoring 18 points in 34 minutes against the Nets on Wednesday.

Korkmaz admitted that he wasn’t ready to see significant playing time last season, but took leaps forward as an all-around basketball player during the offseason. There was an expectation entering the 2018/19 season that he would see more time on the court, as has been the case recently.

“At the time I was telling to people, even like my agent, my parents, my sister, it doesn’t matter who, I was telling them I want to play this year,” Korkmaz told Jessica Camerato, who profiled him for an in-depth Basketball Insiders story. “It was my goal. It was my second year … I knew that I wasn’t ready last year. I wasn’t ready. I knew that. I just worked hard, even when I got injured.

“But I feel like I improved a lot then, not as basketball, physically, as my body. I was saying to people, ‘I want to play,’ … I never got down mentally. I knew that my time will come, but I didn’t know when.”

Korkmaz, 21, was drafted by the Sixers with the No. 26 pick in 2016 after spending multiple seasons overseas. He’s scoring 5.8 points per game on 43% shooting from the floor, 34% from 3-point range and 86% from the charity stripe so far this season, and could earn more minutes as the season progresses if he doesn’t get traded.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

Clippers Keeping Close Eye On Kawhi, Durant

The Clippers are “transparently obsessed” with chasing 2019’s top two free agents, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who writes that the franchise has treated Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant like college recruits, frequently sending executives to Raptors and Warriors contests this season to scout the stars and ensure that the Clips are visible at those games.

Raptors officials have noticed at least one Clippers employee at about three-quarters of their games this season, per Windhorst. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank has been among those Clippers employees spotted at Toronto’s contests, even though top execs rarely attend NBA games that don’t involve their teams.

As Windhorst details, the approach appears to be part of team owner Steve Ballmer‘s master plan. In Ballmer’s perfect world, the Clippers would land Leonard or Durant – or both – during the 2019 offseason, making them the face(s) of the franchise as the team prepares to eventually move into a new arena in Inglewood. Ballmer alluded to this plan on Tuesday, as Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times relays.

“We’re just stacking it up,” Ballmer said. “We’re stacking it up with Jerry [West], stacking up with Lawrence, stacking it up with Doc [Rivers], stacking it up with a new arena. We’re headhunting in a place where this team has not been before.”

The Raptors and Warriors will hold the Bird rights for Leonard and Durant, respectively, allowing them to offer more years and more money to their stars than any other suitor could put on the table. Still, the Clippers are in position to make a strong pitch to both players — L.A. should have the cap flexibility to create two maximum-salary slots, and has added a veteran executive in West – as well as former SI.com scribe Lee Jenkins – to its front office “in an effort to prepare a grand slam pitch when the time is right,” writes Windhorst.

While it remains to be seen whether the Clippers will be successful in their efforts to add a star, they may have another prime opportunity to continue their scouting efforts on Wednesday night, with the Raptors in Golden State to face the Dubs. Leonard is day-to-day with a sore hip, though Toronto had no problem thrashing the Clippers in L.A. on Tuesday night without him.