The Toronto Raptors took a huge gamble by . Not only is Leonard considered unlikely to re-sign with Toronto as a free agent next summer, but he's also reportedly considering sitting out all of next season to avoid playing with the Raptors.
And, league sources told Sporting News, Leonard has no interest in playing for the Raptors. There have been indications that he would sit out the entire season if necessary, and though that step would be drastic and unprecedented in today's game, Toronto has forced the situation into uncharted territory by acquiring a player who has made it clear he does not want to be there.
You sometimes see players hold out from training camp during contract negotiations, but refusing to play for a team entirely has rarely been seen in recent NBA history, particularly by such a prominent star. So what happens if Kawhi sits out? What are his options? What are the team's options?
We decided to lay out the different possibilities and ramifications if Leonard decides not to play for the Raptors.
What if Kawhi just never reports to Toronto?
Zach Lowe of ESPN reports that Leonard could be fined for each practice and game that he misses if he chooses not to report to Toronto, up to his full 2018-19 salary of $20.1 million. In other words, if Kawhi doesn't play, he'll essentially lose his entire salary to fines.
Are there any repercussions besides fines?
Yes. There is another NBA rule that could come into play if Leonard elects to voluntarily sit out next season. Article XI of the 2017 NBA collective bargaining agreement states that if Leonard sits out more than 30 days, he could lose his 2019 free agent status until the Raptors agree to let him go (h/t Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports).
A player who withholds playing services called for by a Player Contract for more than thirty (30) days after the start of the last Season covered by his Player Contract shall be deemed not to have "complet[ed] his Player Contract by rendering the playing services called for thereunder." Accordingly, such a player shall not be a Veteran Free Agent and shall not be entitled to negotiate or sign a Player Contract with any other professional basketball team unless and until the Team for which the player last played expressly agrees otherwise.
This seems like a huge deterrent for Leonard, who is expected to cash in big-time during next summer's free agency period. Under this rule, the Raptors could refuse to allow Leonard to leave until they see fit.
Couldn't Kawhi just say he's injured?
Given the mystery surrounding Leonard's quad injury, it's possible that Leonard could report to the team, but then refuse to play because he and his doctors feel he's not healthy enough. If the Raptors think Leonard is lying and is actually capable of playing, they could file a dispute calling for a "neutral physician" to examine Leonard and determine whether he should be on the court. The physician would then "prepare a written report of the player's medical condition," which would be issued to the league and to Leonard's representation.
If Leonard is vehemently against playing in Toronto, he'll have to face some serious consequences. The easiest way out would be if he is truly injured, which would allow him to sit out as long as he needs to while recovering. It's also possible that, as the reality sets in that he's actually a Toronto Raptor, Leonard will warm up to the idea of joining a team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. He could play out the year, prove that he's healthy and finally get his wish to play for a Los Angeles team next summer. That seems like the cleanest, and most likely, outcome of this scenario.