One of the largest sagas of the offseason was the entire ordeal with 2-time NBA All-Star Kawhi Leonard and his desire to leave the San Antonio Spurs organization in hopes of finding better luck elsewhere. The reason for his departure largely revolved around how the team acted after Leonard was held out for 73 games with a lingering injury in his right quad. There were reports of teammates poking fun at Leonard for not suiting up despite being cleared to play, and this all culminated in a players-only meeting where Leonard’s teammates tried to convince him to return to the court during the season. However, despite the meeting being “tense and emotional” as per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Kawhi didn’t step foot on the court for the rest of the season.
In June, the Finals MVP requested a trade from the Spurs, and on July 18th, Leonard and Danny Green were traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poltl, and a 2019 first round draft pick. At first, there were reports that Kawhi didn’t want to be in Toronto at all and would promptly request a trade from the team. But over the past few weeks, it seems that the 2-time Defensive Player of the Year has warmed up to the idea of playing for the Raptors. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News appeared on TSN Radio yesterday and had this to say on Kawhi’s current mindset:
“Based off of me talking to people within his circle, they’re going to go into this thing with an open mind and give this thing every last opportunity to work. And at the end of the day, if that’s the case, then it would be great if he stays. Obviously, I think part of his mind, yes, let’s keep real: I think he still feels like L.A. might be the destination. At the same time, he plans to go into this thing with an open mind, giving it every single shot in the world to make it work.”
This is a huge step forward, as it seems Kawhi is really going to give his time in Toronto a try and is open to resigning if all goes well. The team still can and will compete for a spot in the finals, as the supporting cast around Leonard compliments his play style. The Raptors also hired Jeremy Castleberry to join Nick Nurse’s coaching staff, who was one of Kawhi’s close friends back in San Antonio.
It seems that Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri will have his work cut out with him this year as he’ll give it his best shot to convince Leonard to stay in Toronto and not leave for Los Angeles, as Kawhi was and still is connected to the Lakers and the Clippers. But according to Adrian Wojnarowski, Ujiri is going into this season “with a determination that he can convince Leonard to re-sign with the Raptors next summer in free agency.” I don’t think money will play a large factor in Leonard’s decision, but it is worth noting that the Raptors could offer him a 5-year, $190 million max contract, while other ball clubs would only be able to max out at a 4-year, $141 million contract.
Regardless of what happens next offseason, it is definitely warming to see Kawhi open up to giving his all to helping the Raptors succeed next NBA season.
Feature Image via Flickr/Basketball Schedule