Kawhi Leonard could be taking the long road to a short-term deal with the Raptors

The Raptors, as had been expected since before NBA free agency began, got to make the last pitch to the all-star forward before he decides where he will be when training camps open in September.

How that pitch went, what it included, who precisely was involved and, most importantly, what impact it had on Leonard and his advisers remained as closely guarded a secret as exists in the league today.

But it assuredly would have laid out different contract terms that might end up being significant to Leonard’s decision.

It has been long expected Toronto would throw the best offer possible at Leonard — five years and nearly $ 190 million (all figures U.S.) — which is one year and $ 40 million more than either the Los Angeles Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers could offer. But the very real possibility is that Leonard might prefer a shorter contract.

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Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard pitch is on deck

League sources — and that includes a very public statement by former Raptor and current broadcaster Jalen Rose — say a one- or two-year deal, with maybe an option for a third year, is very much in play.

Leonard could get $ 68.1 million for a one-year deal with one option year; a two-plus-one deal would max out at about $ 106 million.

The Rose statement on his Twitter feed said he was “99 per cent” sure the Leonard would be back with Toronto. It was followed less than an hour later by one from Chris Carter, the football hall-of-famer turned broadcaster and the brother of ex-Raptors coach Butch Carter. “A LOT of premature reports out there,” wrote Carter, who is seemingly close to Leonard. “Kawhi has NOT made his decision yet and all 3 teams are still in it. Yes, Lakers and Clippers are still in play and I’m 100 per cent certain of this. I wouldn’t hold my breath on getting an answer any time soon. Kawhi still undecided.”

Trying to separate reality from opinion, hope from facts, has become a waste of time. People are saying things they think rather than what they know.

Leonard is under no time pressure — it’s not like the Raptors, Lakers or Clippers are going to stop pursuing him — and he will decide when he decides. That’s what made Wednesday, which included a helicopter following SUVs from Pearson Airport to downtown and fans staking out a Yorkville hotel hoping to get a glimpse of Leonard, almost comical.

Even tennis star Milos Raonic chimed in after a second-round straight sets win at Wimbledon. “I hope he stays,” the noted Raptors fan said. “He did a lot of great things for the team, for everybody that’s a basketball fan in Toronto and in Canada.”

There are benefits to Leonard and the Raptors if any deal materializes that is for less than the maximum five years.

In two seasons, when he completes his 10th year of NBA service, Leonard will be eligible for an extension that starts at 35 per cent of whatever the salary cap is then, not the 30 per cent he is eligible for now

And given that this year’s cap number is $ 109.140 million, a 35 per cent cut of a cap value encroaching on $ 115 million or $ 117 million would likely make up for the final three guaranteed years on a five-year deal if he signed for the duration now.

The Raptors, who are in the process of clearing somewhere near $ 100 million in cap space by the end of next season, would have even more money available for whatever the market presents in two seasons.

The drawbacks are obvious. Leonard would be sacrificing guaranteed money with the ever-present risk of injury, and the Raptors might be left holding a bag of loot with no one to spend it on in 2021.

Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps


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