Far Fetched Friday: Kawhi Leonard Will Still Leave the Toronto Raptors
By: Ryan Stein
Welcome to Far Fetched Friday, where on a Friday we give you a bold prediction that will think we come true. This Friday, we are here to double down on my prediction that Kawhi Leonard will still leave the Toronto Raptors despite the championship.
Rejoice, Raptors fans! After years of routinely getting knocked out of the playoffs by LeBron James, your team has broken through the Eastern Conference and shocked the Golden State Warriors in the Finals! While the Raptors were considered Finals contenders heading into the season, their chances at winning the championship were often overshadowed by the Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston Celtics. They traded for the perfect disgruntled superstar in Kawhi Leonard, who led the Raptors to the Promised Land in his first season with the team. However, I believe his first season with Toronto's basketball team will be his last with them, having already cemented himself as a legend in Canada.
As enigmatic as Leonard is, nobody is really certain what he is really looking for in a team. Does he want to be surrounded by young talented players? Is his preferred destination in a big market? Will weather play an important role in his decision? Last offseason, when he demanded a trade from the San Antonio Spurs, it was reported that he preferred to be dealt to a Los Angeles team. With LeBron James' signing with the Los Angeles Lakers last offseason, it's unlikely they are a serious contender to acquire Leonard's services this summer. The Clippers, however, are an interesting case after greatly outperforming expectations by making the playoffs and giving the Warriors a fight in the first round. One of LAC's biggest weaknesses is at the small forward position, specifically their lack of versatility on defense. As great as Patrick Beverly is on defense, he has no business defending the much larger Kevin Durants and Paul Georges of the world, especially in the playoffs. Leonard is one of, if not the best, perimeter defenders the NBA has to offer. His burden on offense would not be as great as it was with the Raptors, as Lou Williams and Danillo Gallinari are more than capable of shouldering a significant amount of the offensive load.
The question of why Leonard would want to leave the NBA champion Raptors is a valid one. The Raptors have a solid blend of youth and veterans, and he's already proven he can lead that team all the way. Pascal Siakam has proven himself as a potential all-star in the Eastern Conference, and performed spectacularly, albeit somewhat inconsistently, during this year's playoff run. Despite that, Leonard has no obligation to stay with Toronto. Considering Canada was not on his list of preferred destinations, it is reasonable to assume he will be looking to head toward southern pastures this summer and beyond. Teams like the Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets are filled with young talent, proven veterans, and, perhaps most importantly, enough cap space to sign TWO max-contract free agents. On top of that, the Nets and the Clippers are in far more desirable markets than the Raptors, if one of Leonard's motivations is sponsorship deals.
There is no way of knowing at this time what Leonard wants. While I think he is set to join a new team this offseason, it is also possible that he decides to stick it out with the Raptors in the Eastern Conference, where the road to the NBA Finals isn't quite as treacherous as it is in the West. If Leonard does decide to leave, Raptors fans can still appreciate and admire his contributions to their team, accomplishing something other Raptors legends like Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, and DeMar DeRozan could never give Canada: an NBA championship.
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