Kawhi Leonard

NBA rumors: Kawhi Leonard's teammates think Lakers or Clippers will land star

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NBA rumors: Kawhi Leonard's teammates think Lakers or Clippers will land star

Ever since last summer, the prevailing train of thought has been that Kawhi Leonard will head to Los Angeles when he becomes a free agent this summer.

While the Lakers might have been seen as the early frontrunners to sign Leonard, the Clippers have emerged as the most viable candidate, as they can offer the 2014 NBA Finals MVP the chance to play for a functional organization in his hometown without all the drama that comes with playing alongside LeBron James.

That being said, you can't count the Toronto Raptors out of the running, can you? Leonard has had a great first season north of the border, and there's a possibility the Raptors could win the East and play for the NBA title.  Would Leonard really leave a team that's as set up for long-term success as the Raptors are?

While you might think he'd be crazy to leave what could be a perennial NBA Finals contender, that apparently isn't the feeling of some in the Toronto locker room, according to Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus. 

In an article about the Clippers and their comeback win over the Warriors in Game 2 of their first-round NBA playoff series, Pincus talked to a former player who said Leonard's teammates don't get the feeling he's sticking around. 

"One former player said Leonard's teammates expect him to leave for Los Angeles after the season, although he didn't specify which franchise," Pincus writes. 

Of course, Leonard won't be the only marquee free agent on the market this offseason, with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson all likely to be available. While Durant and Irving could choose to opt into the final year of their respective contracts, it seems like a near certainty that both players will opt out and test the market. 

Should Leonard leave Toronto for the glitz and glamor of Los Angeles, no matter the team, the power dynamic in the Western Conference will tilt away from the Warriors, especially if Durant and/or Thompson elect to leave the Bay this summer.

Despite the apparent attempt to miss the playoffs, the Clippers ended up winning 48 games even after trading away Tobias Harris at the deadline, and have played the Warriors tough through the first two games of their playoff series. Adding Leonard to the mix would make the collection of role players assembled by Lawrence Frank, Jerry West and Doc Rivers all the more dangerous.

While the Lakers currently seem like a long shot to land Leonard, putting one of the best two-way players in the NBA next to James and the Lakers' crop of young talent would vault them back up the Western Conference hierarchy.  At least, in theory.

[RELATED: KD's free-agency decision reportedly won't be impacted by the playoffs]

If Durant leaves the Warriors and Leonard joins one of the L.A. teams, the Western Conference will be more wide open than it has been in the last five seasons.

Buckle up, it's going to be a wild summer.

NBA playoff predictions 2019: Can anyone dethrone Warriors as champs?

NBA playoff predictions 2019: Can anyone dethrone Warriors as champs?

After another grueling 82-game season, the NBA playoffs finally have arrived.

With LeBron James in the West (and not in the playoffs with the Lakers), a new crop of Eastern Conference contenders are champing at the bit to be the new kings of the conference. Meanwhile, the NBA's bully continues to reign in the West. But has the gap closed on the Warriors?

The Dubs will enter the postseason as the heavy favorites to win a third consecutive title, but they'll have to outlast a talented group of Western Conference contenders in order to have the chance to defend their back-to-back championships.

All good things come to an end, so is this the year the summer parades in the Bay Area stop? Here's how I see everything unfolding.

First-round predictions

Western Conference
Warriors over Clippers in four
Nuggets over Spurs in seven
Thunder over Trail Blazers in seven
Rockets over Jazz in five

Eastern Conference
Bucks over Pistons in four
Raptors over Magic in five
76ers over Nets in seven
Celtics over Pacers in six

I expect the first round to be pretty straightforward. The Warriors will throttle the Clippers' collection of role players, giving the two-time defending champs time to rest before the second round.

James Harden and the Rockets should make it past the Jazz, who caught a tough break when Houston fell to the No. 4 seed. The other two series seem irrelevant, but I'll take the Thunder and the Nuggets. With Jusuf Nurkic out, the Blazers will struggle to defend Steven Adams. And as well-coached as the Spurs are, the upstart Nuggets should make it through with the help of their home-court advantage.

Out East, the Sixers, Raptors and Bucks assert themselves as the conference's best teams. Kyrie Irving and his leadership (?) are just enough to get the Celtics past the Pacers and keep Boston hoping the C's eventually will live up to the preseason hype.

Second-round predictions

Western Conference
Warriors over Rockets in seven
Thunder over Nuggets in seven

Eastern Conference
Bucks over Celtics in seven
Raptors over 76ers in seven

Rockets-Warriors in the second round? Oh, boy. The Rockets give the Warriors all they can handle but again go cold in Game 7 -- missing 28 consecutive 3-pointers or something like that -- and the Warriors escape to advance to the Western Conference finals.

On the other side of the West bracket, the Nuggets' inexperience finally catches up with them as Russell Westbrook and Paul George lead the Thunder to an emotional showdown with the Warriors.

The East will be a bloodbath as well. Boston has been brutal on the road all season, and it's finally going to catch up with the Celtics in Milwaukee, sending them toward an offseason full of uncertainty. Speaking of uncertain offseasons, Kawhi Leonard will end the 76ers' "Big Five" experiment much earlier than they'd hoped, forcing them to contemplate if Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris can co-exist. We left out J.J. Redick because, well, he's clearly not the issue.

Conference finals predictions

Western Conference
Warriors over Thunder in six

Eastern Conference
Raptors over Bucks in six

Giannis Antetokounmpo's impressive season comes to a halt at the giant hands of The Claw. With LeBron finally out of their way, the Raptors assume their position atop the East.

The Warriors, fresh off a grueling seven-game slugfest with Houston, are barely able to outlast the Thunder. Westbrook and George carry the Thunder to an early 2-1 series lead, but Durant and Curry find their stroke in a blowout Game 4 victory and the Thunder are never able to recover.

NBA Finals prediction

Warriors over Raptors in seven

This won't be the cakewalk the last two NBA Finals have been for the Dubs. Instead of facing Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson, the Warriors will contend with the Raptors' dangerous collection of role players around Leonard and Kyle Lowry.

As evidenced this season, the Raptors have the talent and versatility to give the Warriors fits. Leonard presents a big issue for the champs, and budding star Pascal Siakam and veterans Danny Green and Marc Gasol anchor a talented starting five.

After splitting the first four games of the series, Leonard will push the Warriors to the brink of elimination by putting on an all-time great performance in Game 5. But, much like the Night King and the army of the dead in "Game of Thrones," the Warriors are damn near impossible to kill. Buoyed by a heroic second half from Klay Thompson, the Warriors say goodbye to Oracle Arena with a narrow Game 6 win, setting up a winner-take-title Game 7 north of the border.

In what could be his final game in a Raptors uniform, Leonard puts up 37 points, and Toronto leads heading into the fourth quarter. But, as previously noted, if you want to kill the Warriors, you better go for the head.

Curry pours in 16 fourth-quarter points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining, to seal the three-peat and Finals MVP honors.

NBA rumors: Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson 'unlikely' to sign with Lakers

NBA rumors: Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson 'unlikely' to sign with Lakers

This summer could make-or-break the LeBron James era with the Lakers, and it's starting to sound like it might be a bust.

James and the Lakers drastically underperformed expectations this season, with injuries, bad chemistry and poor roster construction causing the superstar forward to miss the playoffs for the first time since his second season in the NBA. L.A. faces a crucial upcoming summer, where they will try to woo another big-name free agent to Tinseltown in order to play Robin to James' Batman. 

Many have floated the idea of Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson, both of whom will be free agents this summer, leaving the vaunted Warriors to join James in L.A. But it doesn't appear the Lakers have a good chance of landing either of the Warriors' stars, according to The Athletic's Bill Oram.

While Durant, Thompson and Kawhi Leonard all are expected to be high on the Lakers' offseason wishlist, rival executives believe it is "unlikely" either of three will join James, according to Oram, as the opinion around the league is that the Lakers are second or third on each of those players' lists.

Ouch.

If that turns out to be the case, the Lakers will be left with trying to sell Kyrie Irving on rejoining James or turn their attention to the B-group of free agents that includes Jimmy Butler, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and Tobias Harris. 

Irving reportedly will grant the Lakers a meeting, but it seems unlikely the guy who forced his way out of James' shadow in Cleveland would come crawling back. However, it's impossible to tell what a mercurial star like Irving will do.

[RELATED: KD reportedly 'ready to move on;' Klay would sign max deal]

Should the Lakers whiff on all the big-name guys, they'll be forced to surround James with better role players and hope young stars Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma take another leap.

And we saw how that plan of attack worked this year.