When the Toronto Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard, they knew this day would come.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Leonard declined his $21.3 million player option for next season, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer. He can now sign with any team in the league, but the three-time All-Star is reportedly "seriously considering" re-signing with the Raptors, sources told Haynes.
What's the case for Leonard to stay with the Raptors?
This is pretty simple: Toronto can offer Leonard more guaranteed money than any other team in the league this offseason.
The most the Raptors can offer Leonard on his next contract is $190 million over five years. The most a new team can offer him? $141 million over four years.
That means Leonard is looking at an annual salary of $38 million with the Raptors compared to $35.3 million with every other team, the main benefit being that he could lock in an extra year of max-level money with Toronto.
The question is does that difference matter to Leonard, who was prepared to give up a lot of money when he requested a trade from the Spurs last offseason. Because he was "supermax" eligible, San Antonio would've been able to offer him even more than the Raptors - a five-year, $221 million contract for an annual salary of $44.2 million.
There's also a possibility Leonard could make up the difference between what the Raptors and a new team can offer him on his next contract, assuming he's still playing at an MVP level as he enters his early 30s.
Even so, if Leonard is looking to make as much money as possible this summer, the Raptors have a slight advantage.
If Leonard returns to the Raptors, he knows what he's getting himself into.
Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet are each under contract for one more season, and Pascal Siakam is currently on the books until 2020-21, though he is eligible for an extension this offseason.
The only core player who will definitely be a free agent this offseason is Danny Green. While keeping might not be easy - there is a high demand for players with his skill set and this could be his last chance to sign a big contract - Green has expressed interest in staying in Toronto.
"I'm enjoying it very much, man. And if they want to have me for longer, then I'm all for it," Green said on his podcast earlier this season. "So we'll see how this summer how it goes."
Having beaten the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, the Raptors clearly have what it takes to compete for a championship again next season. It ultimately depends on whether or not Leonard believes this roster can repeat or if he has faith that Masai Ujiri can make the upgrades the Raptors need to get them to that level again.
Beyond next season is where it gets interesting. Lowry, Ibaka, VanVleet and Gasol are each set to be free agents, which would give the Raptors an opportunity to build something new around Leonard and Siakam. That might not have been much of a draw for Leonard entering this season, but Siakam has proven to be one of the league's brightest young stars. He is the favourite to be named this season's Most Improved Player and a safe bet to develop into a multi-time All-Star.
Considering Siakam only recently turned 25-years-old, him and Leonard have the potential to become one of the league's best one-two punches.
Another option for Leonard is to re-sign with the Raptors on a short term deal, likely a 1+1 - a two-year contract that has a player option in the second season. That would give him an opportunity to play one more season with the same roster and re-evaluate the situation next offseason, when he'd have the choice of becoming an unrestricted free agent again.
If Leonard picked up his player option for the 2020-21 season, he'd then qualify for a five-year, $248 million extension with the Raptors, as he would have 10 years of experience.
The Raptors took the cautious approach with Leonard after he missed almost all of last season with a quadriceps injury. He sat out a total of 22 games, mostly due to "load management."
Prior to the playoffs, Leonard talked about how that helped keep him fresh and prevent him from suffering another injury.
"They've been doing a good job of reading images and making sure that I'm improving instead of declining on the health side."
Leonard also expressed how important it is to have a good relationship with a team's medical staff.
"It's big. You've got to be able to play for people you trust and them be able to see what you feel. And you just go from there and try to get better together."
There are other teams that could take the same approach with Leonard, but they might not be as judicious as the Raptors, especially if he were to sign with a team that runs the risk of missing the playoffs by sidelining him for a quarter of the season.
The Raptors, on the other hand, have already proven to Leonard that they have a plan in place that works. They've proven they can still be competitive without him in the regular season, too. They obviously need him against the best of the best, but Toronto was a perfect 13-0 against non-playoff teams in games Leonard missed during the regular season.
It boils down to Leonard now being familiar with the Raptors and their medical staff. With how much uncertainty there was surrounding his injury last season and how focused he is on having as long of a career as possible, that could give the Raptors another advantage over the other teams hoping to lure Leonard away from Toronto.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.