The NBA never sleeps, the offseason is a myth and Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor. While we continue to digest the blockbuster bringing The Klaw to The North, the debate rages: will he stay in Toronto?
It finally happened, the Kawhi Leonard drama is over, at least for now. One of the strangest NBA dramas of all time has moved on to the next chapter. The enigmatic forward was traded to the Toronto Raptors, instead of his desired Los Angeles.
According to rumors, Leonard wanted to be traded to his hometown, preferably to play with the Los Angeles Lakers. Apparently, Leonard was upset with how the San Antonio Spurs handled his injured right quadriceps. Now, the question is, will Kawhi be happy in Toronto?
Do the Raptors actually have a chance at keeping Kawhi?
The consensus since the trade has been that the Raptors-Kawhi marriage will be short-lived. No one really knows, particularly because we still haven’t heard a word from Kawhi about anything. At this point, until Leonard signs his next contract, it appears that we won’t have any idea what he’s thinking.
So let’s just have fun with this, shall we?
While first impressions of the trade were that this would be a rental for Toronto, I’m not so sure. I can’t really understand why Kawhi wants to go to Los Angeles, or New York or any high media market city. Also, let’s not pretend that Toronto is a small market team in a wasteland. Has anyone dealt with Toronto traffic? It’s not fun. Anyway, for a guy who hates attention and rarely speaks publicly, it doesn’t add up. Listen, I understand wanting to live in Los Angeles. Many NBA players live and train in LA during the offseason. It’sLos Angeles,the weather is amazing, the beaches are fantastic, and it’s where the stars mingle. But for Leonard, playing for the Lakers with LeBron James sounds like the last thing he’d want to do.
So with all that being said, in my opinion, Toronto absolutely has a chance to keep Kawhi for the long haul.
Why Toronto might just be the perfect spot for Leonard
Look, I get that publicly Kawhi’s “group” will float that they aren’t happy he’s in Toronto now. What are they supposed to do? They can’t demand a trade to LA, get manhandled by Gregg Popovich by being sent north of the border and say, “oh yea, we’re good!” Of course, they will say they aren’t pleased. But that’s the emotion of the event taking over.
The reality of the situation is that it’s the perfect scenario for Leonard. This is a team that won 59 games last season, and now LeBron is in the West. Adding Leonard is an upgrade for the Raptors and they should be dangerous next season. There are a lot of “ifs” involved, mostly connected to how committed Kawhi plans to be. With a healthy Kawhi, the Raptors should be competing with the Boston Celtics for Eastern supremacy.
Besides the fact that the Raptors are really good, they have a stable of good young players. They are going to be good for a while. A lineup of Leonard, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ilbaka with Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright off the bench is as good as any in the East.
Also, don’t forget about the Masai Ujiri factor, he’s the key in all of this. There’s a reason DeRozan didn’t want to leave Toronto. Ujiri has created a winning basketball culture there. Sure, DeRozan may feel he was lied to about whether he would be traded, but it’s a business. The reality is, there are few true “untouchables” and DeRozan simply isn’t one of them. Players want to win and be in a culture that breeds winning. That’s exactly what Ujiri has done.
What will Kawhi Leonard do? It’ll be a season-long saga, again
Personally, I believe there’s a good chance that Kawhi stays in Toronto. I’m probably the only one, but I believe there’s a chance. This isn’t like the Paul George situation either. By being traded, Leonard lost about $31 million by not signing the supermax deal in San Antonio. It’s hard to imagine him leaving another $50 million to leave Toronto. Again, he’s the most mysterious player in the league so what he values is anyone’s guess. If Leonard signs a long-term deal with the Raptors, he can sign for five years and $190 million. Signing anywhere else for the maximum available deal would get Leonard a four-year, $141 million deal. There’s a big difference there.
In the end, I’m not sure Kawhi will stay in Toronto, but I laugh at the notion he can make up the difference in endorsements. I can’t imagine ad agencies kicking the door down to have Kawhi Leonard be their spokesman. He’s shown the personality of a paint can and hates the spotlight. I don’t know if there is $50 million in endorsements waiting for Kawhi.
It’ll be an interesting year for the Raptors and Kawhi. I think it’s time we get our popcorn ready, the show will begin soon.