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Kawhi Leonard free agency impact: Landing superstar would boost Lakers’ championship odds by over 20 percent

Where will Kawhi Leonard play basketball next season? That’s the biggest question on everyone’s mind as we move deeper into the 2019 free agency period, which has already been one of the busiest in NBA history. 

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, teams were warned that if anything leaked from their meetings with Leonard, it would hurt their chances of signing him. So aside from the fact that Leonard is meeting with and considering the Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, we have very little info to go with, and can do nothing but wait until he makes his decision.

While we wait for Leonard to make his league-altering choice, here’s a look at how his decision would affect all three of the teams involved. SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh ran the simulations to determine how Leonard’s arrival, or departure in the Raptors’ case, would impact each team in both the regular season and playoffs. 

Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers

Wins

Playoffs

Seed

Win conference

Win NBA title

Current forecast

51.6

98.5%

2

17.5%

8.3%

With Leonard

56.9

99.9%

1

43.1%

29.6%

IMPACT

+5.3

+1.4%

+1

+25.6%

+21.3%

Even with a bunch of empty roster spots left to fill, the Lakers already have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, so it’s no surprise that Leonard wouldn’t be much of a boost during the regular season. They’re already projected to win over 50 games and get a top-two seed in the West, so there isn’t much room for them to improve. In the playoffs, however, Leonard would be a huge boost, raising their chances of winning the Western Conference by over 25 percent and the title by over 20 percent. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering what Leonard did this season in the playoffs combined with the two stars the Lakers already have.

Los Angeles Clippers

Clippers

Wins

Playoffs

Seed

Win conference

Win NBA title

Current forecast

42.3

51.7%

8

4.6%

1.3%

With Leonard

49.0

93.2%

6

15.9%

9.2%

IMPACT

+6.7

+41.5%

+2

+11.3%

+7.9%

The Clippers, meanwhile, would see a huge regular-season boost from Leonard. Though they burst onto the scene in the postseason by winning two games against the Warriors in their first-round series, the Clippers struggled to make the playoffs last season and are bringing back pretty much the same team. Leonard would give them a true star to complement their hardworking squad, and would elevate them from potential playoff team to contender. So while they would obviously see a big boost to their title chances — plus-7.9 percent — they have the most room to improve out of these three teams, and it would be reflected in their regular-season record.

Toronto Raptors

Raptors

Wins

Playoffs

Seed

Win conference

Win NBA title

Current forecast (with Leonard)

55.4

99.9%

2

23.3%

14.2%

Leonard leaves

49.8

97.5%

4

4.7%

1.2%

IMPACT

-5.6

-2.4%

-2

-18.6%

-13.0%

The main reason that Masai Ujiri took the big risk to trade for Kawhi Leonard last summer was that after years of middling success in the playoffs, the star forward was capable of vaulting them into title contention. It worked out as we know now, and Leonard’s impact was most obvious in the postseason. The Raptors were, and would continue to be, a very solid team without Leonard, but would have no chance of winning a title, as the SportsLine projections show. If Leonard leaves they’re still projected to win almost 50 games and get home court in the first round, but would see their title chances drop by 13 percent.