Marc Stein of the New York Times dropped a number of fearless NBA predictions for the New Year, including the fate of MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, and the Toronto Raptors.

Stein, who previously worked as an NBA insider for ESPN, believes big changes are due to happen for the Raptors this year.

He predicted Leonard to leave the Raptors after this season and go home playing for the Los Angeles Clippers. Stein added that Kawhi’s departure would force Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to push the rebuild button, making Lowry available in trade negotiations.

The NBA pundit said winning the championship in June would be the only scenario where he sees the Raptors keeping the former Defensive Player of the Year north of the border.

“Despite Kawhi Leonard‘s success in Toronto," Stein expects him to sign with the Clippers in July. "He adds that the Raptors will likely need to win a title to keep their new star from heading home to Southern California in free agency and predicts Toronto will start rebuilding if Leonard leaves, including a trade of Kyle Lowry,” notesHoops Rumors.

The Clippers have emerged as a potential destination for the two-way superstar because the team offers Leonard the opportunity to play at home in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Lakers are another team expected to line up for Kawhi’s services next summer, though the prospect of playing second fiddle to LeBron James isn’t an attractive situation for him, according to reports.

Kawhi’s MVP push

The Raptors are in the midst of their best season ever, posting an impressive 28-11 record entering the New Year. Leonard, who the Raptors acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade with the San Antonio Spurs last summer, has been the main catalyst behind Toronto’s resurgence in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have become one of the favorites to come out of the East alongside the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kawhi is averaging 27.3 points (49.7 FG percent and 36.1 3PT percent) and 8.2 rebounds in over 34 minutes per game this season.

A strong MVP contender, Leonard started 2019 with a bang after he recorded 45 points on 16-of-22 shooting in the Raps’122-116 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. He’s currently sitting at number two on the NBA MVP ladder just behind Milwaukee’s do-it-all forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Injury update on Lowry and Valanciunas

Raptors' head coach Nick Nurse provided details on the progress of Lowry (quad and back soreness) and center Jonas Valanciunas (left thumb) from their respective injuries.

Nurse said he expected Lowry to play again sooner than expected after dealing with a quad injury. However, a back problem pushed back his return date to at least a few more games. Valanciunas, on the other hand, underwent successful surgery to fix a dislocated thumb. Sutures were removed from his hand three days ago and the Lithuanian big man is set to start his rehabilitation. Still, the Raptors haven’t set a timetable for his return.