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Will Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard stay in Toronto?

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SportsPulse: Trysta Krick tries to make sense of what we saw over the course of six games between the Raptors and Warriors and how it will have an echoing affect going forward.
USA TODAY

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Toronto Raptors were not Kawhi Leonard’s preferred team when he requested a trade from San Antonio a year ago.

But where do the Raptors stand now, as Leonard – a champion and Finals MVP for the second time in his career – gets ready to hit free agency?

You can look at it two ways.

The Raptors made a convincing argument that Leonard should stay.

Or, Leonard helped the Raptors to a title, his work with the team is done, he will forever be a legend in Raptors history and can now join another team.

There are other variables, too, including whether Raptors president Masai Ujiri entertains a potential offer to run basketball operations for the Washington Wizards.

The Raptors own Leonard’s Bird rights and can offer him a five-year, $189.6 million deal. Other teams can offer a four-year deal worth $140.6 million. Leonard can also negotiate a shorter contract, too, and it may not be about the most money, either. Lifestyle, coach, front office, teammates and city also can play a role in a free agent’s decision.

What are Leonard’s potential options?

Toronto Raptors

You would think what the Raptors did increased Leonard’s chances of staying, and perhaps he looks at a short-term deal and revisits free agency after next season. He turns 28 in two weeks and will be a sought-after free agent in 2020 if that’s what he wants.

They treated his health with the utmost care and provided a solid treatment plan that yielded results. By the end of the season, Leonard performed like a top-five player and capped the season with an NBA championship and his second Finals MVP. If Leonard returns, the Raptors can run it back with almost the same squad, plus a healthy O.G. Anunoby, and have a chance to repeat.

Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard is from Southern California, played high school basketball in Riverside, California, and college basketball at San Diego State. The Clippers were one of the teams Leonard preferred. The Clippers’ interest in Leonard is well-known (they weren’t quite stalking him this season), and they have the money and salary cap to spend in free agency.

It’s an attractive team with coach Doc Rivers and a workman-like roster that suits Leonard’s no-nonsense style.

Los Angeles Lakers

When Leonard’s trade demand from San Antonio first became public, the Lakers were Leonard’s preferred destination, according to several reports. But that changed once LeBron James decided to sign with the Lakers in free agency. Now, James may try to convince Leonard to join him, and if the Lakers land Anthony Davis from New Orleans via trade, it would make the Lakers a desirable landing spot for any star.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are close enough to add two max salary players in free agency – perhaps Kyrie Irving and another wing to put alongside other hard-working, talented players, some of whom are overachieving under coach Kenny Atkinson. They also have a young, improving center in Jarrett Allen who is on the verge of becoming a two-way star.

New York Knicks

It’s no secret the Knicks would love to sign Kevin Durant. But don’t discount their interest in Leonard. If the Knicks draft R.J. Barrett and can land another star, it’s possible Leonard takes a look at that situation.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt

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