Clippers, Knicks poised to woo free agent Kawhi

LOS ANGELES • Kawhi Leonard will decline his player option with the Toronto Raptors but is "seriously considering" returning to the National Basketball Association champions, Yahoo Sports reported yesterday.

The NBA Finals Most Valuable Player was expected to decline his US$21.3 million (S$28.8 million) option, which would be the last of a five-year, US$94.3 million deal he signed with the San Antonio Spurs, who traded him to Toronto last summer. He has until Saturday - his 28th birthday - to opt out.

Leonard, a Los Angeles native, is reportedly interested in joining the LA Clippers who, with the New York Knicks, are expected to make a push should the two-time NBA champion become a free agent.

"The appeal of returning home to Southern California is enticing to the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year," wrote Yahoo's Chris Haynes.

"But with the trust the Raptors built while Leonard led the franchise to its first NBA title by upsetting the Golden State Warriors, rival executives view his current team as the favourite to land him when the free-agent negotiating period begins June 30, sources said."

The Raptors are the only team that can offer a maximum contract of five years and US$190 million, about US$15 million more than any deal Leonard could get from other teams.

ESPN reported last week that Leonard could also be weighing short-term offers that allow him to return to free agency in two or three years, an approach to free agency similar to LeBron James'.

Leonard averaged a career-high 26.6 points last season and scored a total of 732 points in the post-season - the third most all-time.

According to Basketball Reference, his 30.3 per cent usage rate was the highest on the team, and he attempted the most shots (1,129) by any Raptor despite missing 22 regular-season games.

Leonard was Finals MVP this year for the second time - having also won in 2014 with the Spurs - as the Raptors beat the Warriors in six games.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'Clippers, Knicks poised to woo free agent Kawhi'. Print Edition | Subscribe