NBA Title Odds Move on Kawhi Leonard’s Opt-Out as Raptors Gain Steam to Re-sign Star
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2).
- Kawhi Leonard officially opted out of the final year of his contract with the Toronto Raptors, making him a free agent on June 30.
- Matt Moore analyzes the buzz around the league on where Kawhi is leaning, along with the current 2020 NBA title odds.
Sometimes the bigger news is what’s not said in a decision.
In news that surprises no one, Kawhi Leonard has decided to decline his option for the 2019-20 season, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported over the weekend, making him an unrestricted free agent as of July 1. However, Haynes also notes there is a growing sense that he may re-sign with the Raptors after winning his second NBA title and second NBA Finals MVP award. From Haynes:
The appeal of returning home to Southern California is enticing to the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 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 favorite to land him when the free-agent negotiating period begins June 30, sources said.
For perspective on this, after the Raptors pulled off the trade for Leonard, Haynes tweeted this, obviously directed from his camp.
Kawhi Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto, league source tells ESPN.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 18, 2018
So a year later, the whole thing looks different. If we accept that the injury maintenance with the Spurs was Leonard’s No. 1 issue in demanding a trade — which let’s grant here but is certainly worth debate — then a close second was the sense reported from multiple outlets that Leonard wanted more star visibility. He got that in Toronto, hitting the biggest shot of the playoffs in Game 7 vs. the Sixers (the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history), topping the MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and then tearing down the Warriors’ dynasty, even under a cloud of injuries.
So it makes sense that the Raptors may have made him re-think things over the course of the year, and the odds have followed suit toward that outcome, as well.
As of this writing (5:02 p.m. ET on Monday, June 24), the Raptors’ odds at the Westgate have moved to 8-1 for the 2020 title. Those are considerably shorter than the 20-1 they opened at on May 4, and the 10-1 figure we saw last week.
The Clippers, broadly considered to be the biggest threat to sign Kawhi, according to both league sources and just about every media outlet on the planet, remain at 7-1, with no week-to-week movement. (The Clippers opened at 16-1 at Westgate.)
What’s the Best Betting Value Right Now?
As I wrote after the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis, the Raptors remain a great value to win the title. At a number closer to 4-1, I’d start to waver, considering the risk of Leonard’s departure. But if you want to try and get in on value before Leonard’s decision, there’s certainly reason to believe things are headed in Toronto’s direction. That was the buzz at the Finals, and it’s remained consistent since then.
However, there’s also this to consider, which mirrors what I’ve heard from asking around the league:
There just isn’t a lot of info out there on Leonard. There have been signals on the teams he plans to meet with, including the Clippers and Sixers:
ALERT ALERT ALERT
WOJ SAYS KAWHI WILL TAKE A MEETING WITH THE SIXERS pic.twitter.com/bf5wvjBDyo
— Drew Corrigan (@Dcorrigan50) June 21, 2019
But the Raptors are moving into a coin flip position, if not outright favorites. Notably, PointsBet has Toronto at +600 and the Clippers at +900.
Finally, the early win totals have the Raptors at 52.5, which definitely still reflects Leonard staying. I made the argument Monday that there’s value on the under, and even if Leonard re-signs, I think that’s the case; there are too many warning signs, including the history of what happens for win totals the year after a championship.
Leonard’s decision will help shape the NBA for the next five years, and that may be what keeps him from re-signing longterm in Toronto.
The Raptors have a title core that could definitely return to pursue a championship the next season, maybe even in 2021. But after that, an aging roster with a cap-strapped money sheet in a tax-burdened market may have a hard time making the most of Kawhi’s late prime, while the Clippers offer a new stadium and the lure of being close to home.
Either way, you should be ready to pounce on the under and to fade whichever team loses out on Leonard. He means that much.