The Crossover podcast is addressing one of the most talked about subjects in basketball: Kawhi Leonard. His free-agency decision will dominate the next few weeks, as teams line up to sign him. Chris Mannix and former Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox talk about Leonard, the teams that could land him and how teams on the sidelines feel about the sweepstakes.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Mannix: What's your early sense on what free agency could look like?
Wes Wilcox: This free-agency period is certainly going to be the most active since 2016. It probably won't be as crazy as 2016 because you had the $70 million dollar cap that jumped to $94 million dollars with the new national TV money, and you had 26 to 28 teams or so with max cap room and you didn't quite have the depth at the top of the free agent class like you have now. But without question you're going to see teams spend a lot of money and a number of teams spend it very quickly as they try to beat others in the market, especially those teams up top who are gonna get pressure on their kind of plan B free agents because they're going to have to wait on the plan a guys to make decisions. And that's where there'll be opportunity for some of these you know second tier, which are starter, maybe starter-plus, maybe All-Star level guys but not quite that clear cut first tier, and that's where we're gonna see probably the most aggressive deals get done.
Mannix: All right, let's talk about the plan a guys, specifically the top of that heap. Kawhi Leonard is going to be an unrestricted free agent come June 30th. It seems like it's a two-team race between Toronto and the Clippers, though I'm sure the Knicks will try to get in there, the Nets, maybe Dallas tries to get in there. But Kawhi is fascinating me Wes because he's the kind of guy that could reshape the landscape of the NBA almost singularly, like he stays in Toronto for example and all of a sudden the Raptors look like the team to beat next year. He goes to the Clippers and with that roster the Clippers currently have, if they're able to bring all those guys back and add Kawhi to the mix, you can make a pretty strong argument that they are the team to beat next year. Meanwhile if Kawhi leaves Toronto could decide to strip that team down for parts and rebuild around Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet and a handful of others there. What do you think about not just Kawhi's decision but the ripple effects of the Kawhi decision the next couple of weeks.
Wilcox: There's no question you can make an argument that both teams, whoever lands Kawhi, would be a favorite or certainly one of the favorites partially because what has happened with the injuries to the Warriors. And the uncertainty with the Warriors and Kevin Durant even prior to the injuries. So both teams are fascinating. But the thing I love about both of these teams is when you add Kawhi to the Clippers, they have an additional $14 million all the way up to really almost $46 million dollars in more room, depending upon how they want to handle the back end of of their room scenarios. And so they have an opportunity to improve beyond just Kawhi and then Toronto they certainly have a great team with a great deal of depth. Their next question after you know keeping Kawhi on their roster is: how do they really handle Danny Green? And most likely Marc Gasol, of course, opts in to that contract.
But what makes both of these scenarios just fascinating to look at is both teams, the Clippers and Toronto, if they don't end up with Kawhi, both have great futures. Toronto would just kind of recircle the wagon around Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, they may have to consider vet trades if they didn't have Kawhi. And then when you look at their future cap planning, in 2020 they only have you know Norman Powell at $10.8 million, OG's $3.8 million team option, Van Vleet's an unrestricted free agent with a $17 million cap hold, Siakam's a $7 million cap hold. And in 2021 they only have Powell on the books at $11.6 million. So they probably refocused their free agency in 2020 and 2021, where the 2021 free-agency class is certainly deeper than the 2020 class.
And the Clippers can do much the same. They have all these picks that they've acquired through their very smart trades. They've done a great job of drafting. They've signed value contracts. The Clippers probably try to sign value in free agency if they don't sign Kawhi. They may consider trades into their room, but they too can be a huge amount of room team in 2020 or 2021, as they try to reposition the franchise if they don't successfully land Kawhi or another A-list free agent this summer.
Mannix: When you talk to different people around the league, do you get the sense that that people are kind of rooting for Toronto or do they not care what happens to Kawhi? Because I would love if that the roll the dice that the Raptors made was rewarded. They went out there, they risked the future of their franchise, at least their ability to win in the short-term, to go get Kawhi Leonard, add him to that makes it a paid off. And now's where they have to kind of see what happens. But what's the general sense around the league about what what they hope Kawhi Leonard does?
Wilcox: I think the hope is largely self-interest. I think the West hopes that he stays in the East and the East hopes that he goes West. So I truly believe that's what the competitive nature of the teams hopes that he just leaves the conference to create a greater opportunity within the individual conference. But, yes, there is also I believe a hope that maybe secondarily to the bet paying off the gamble paying off. Though there's been a lot talked about Toronto had just you know kind of peaked, that their team had had kind of plateaued is the best they could be and they needed a shakeup and this trade created really more variance. Certainly more upside that resulted you know in a championship. There was also more downside, as you talked about, because they got one fewer year on the deal, and if Kawhi leaves that they may be forced to kind of invest in their future and take a longer view. But at the end of the day, I just believe the competitive nature of these teams just want Kawhi Leonard out of their conference so there can be a greater opportunity to emerge to the Finals.