The Raptors are the even-money favorite to land Kawhi Leonard

The recruitment of Kawhi Leonard has been a long and strange one. And another turn was added on Thursday when OddsShark declared the Toronto Raptors as even-money favorites to land the services of the Spurs superstar for the upcoming season.

Kawhi Leonard’s summer has been a strange one

Leonard has been steadfast in his approach to free agency: He wants to be a Los Angeles Laker, even following the team’s addition of LeBron James. Leonard, who will be a free agent following next season, is a Los Angeles native and even reached out to James regarding the two playing together.

Still, there’s been almost no progress on Leonard’s possible destinations over the last few weeks. Leonard grew frustrated with the Spurs’ handling of his quadriceps injury last season, and though Leonard has met with head coach Gregg Popovich, reports emerged that Leonard has also hid from his coaches during the regular season. The Spurs’ asking price for him has been astronomical. Again, there remain more questions than answers.

The Raptors are emerging as contenders

The Raptors’ ascent up the odds charts is an intriguing one, especially because James’ path to Los Angeles took a similar one among the oddsmakers.

Per Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post, the Raptors emerged at the NBA Summer League, which, coincidentally, takes place in Las Vegas.

The Toronto Raptors also generated buzz as a potential destination for Leonard. With LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, perhaps Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is willing to swing for the fences and move DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry in such a deal.

As Bontemps mentioned, though, acquiring Leonard would likely cost DeRozan or Lowry, the two stars that helped Toronto to the top seed in the Eastern Conference last year. On the other hand, that duo is yet to take the team over the hump (mostly thanks to James’ presence in the East), and with James now out West, adding Leonard could take the team to the next level.

Leonard, 27, is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time All-NBA selection and an NBA Finals MVP. When healthy, he is arguably the best two-way player in the game. But his health — and his role in managing it — are red flags. He played in just nine games last year.

The Raptors, like other favorites Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia, have the young pieces to make an attractive trade package, and they also hold control of their first-round draft picks for the foreseeable future. The updated odds could be nothing. But perhaps Vegas is onto something.

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Could Kawhi Leonard be heading north of the border? Vegas thinks so. (AP)
Could Kawhi Leonard be heading north of the border? Vegas thinks so. (AP)