Raptors Lead

The Future of Toronto is in Kawhi’s Huge Hands

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As the dust begins to settle on one of the greatest post-season runs in recent history, all eyes turn to Kawhi Leonard and his impending free agency. Kawhi has quickly become first priority for many teams across the league. With Kevin Durant sidelined and Anthony Davis headed to LA, Kawhi is the only bonafide superstar left in the mix.

Along with securing their first ever NBA championship, Toronto has done everything they possibly can to persuade Leonard into re-signing. From Ka’Wine and Dine, to a free penthouse, Toronto has proven how much they want Kawhi. Most players wouldn’t think twice about resigning with the city that has embraced them the way the Toronto has with Kawhi. Most players would want to resign to the team that just became NBA champions. But Kawhi Leonard isn’t like most players.

Kawhi’s decision will ultimately determine which direction the Toronto Raptors go in next season, and for years to come. If he stays, the Raptors become immediate contenders to win back-to-back championships. But if he leaves, things become much more complicated.

If Kawhi Leaves

It’s hard to believe the contrast in the Toronto Raptors since President Masai Ujiri took over. He was able to turn a mediocre team into champions in just six years. One of Ujiri’s uncredited feats, however, is building a team that despite winning it all, can quickly and efficiently go into a full rebuild.

Rebuild is probably the last thing that Raptors fans want to hear after hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy just days ago, but it can certainly be the direction that Toronto heads to if Kawhi decides to walk. After the end of next season, the Raptors’ roster can essentially be wiped clean, if need be. Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry will all enter free agency next year. This not only clears up over $80 million in cap space, but allows the Raptors to go into a full rebuild in just a single year.

If Toronto heads towards a rebuild, they could choose to unload some of their expiring contracts for draft picks and young talent. While Gasol, Lowry and Ibaka aren’t getting any younger, there could be several teams looking to add veterans with a championship pedigree.

The Raptors would then be able to build around their soon-to-be-named Most Improved Player in Pascal Siakam. Siakam was amazing this season, and would be a fantastic piece for the Raptors moving forward. A young core of Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet would put the Raptors in good hands. Without any large contracts or long-term deals holding them back, the opportunities moving forward would be endless for Toronto.

The Raptors could also go into an entirely new direction if they want to. With Gasol, Lowry and Ibaka’s contracts finishing up, Toronto could immediately enter the market. While the 2020 free agency pool is not as favorable as this year, there are still several talented players who could help the Raptors.

Although Toronto would want nothing more then for Kawhi to re-sign, Ujiri has given his team a substantial safety net in the event that he leaves.

If Kawhi Stays

If Kawhi ends up staying north of the border, expect it to be on a shorter deal. With the majority of the Raptors core heading to free agency in one year, it makes the most sense for Kawhi to sign a 1+1. This would allow Kawhi to make another run for the title without having to make a long-term commitment to a team with an uncertain future.

By signing a deal with a player option in the second year, there is no risk for Kawhi if the team loses its core in 2020. The majority of the championship team will be returning next year, with Danny Green being the only rotation player who is likely to head into free agency (Marc Gasol has a player option for over $25 million). This team could have the legs to make a back-to-back run for the championship, but it all depends on the Board Man.

Where Could He Go?

As it is now, it seems to be a two-horse race in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes. The Raptors and Clippers appear to be clear frontrunners to sign Leonard. While many believe the Lakers to be in the mix as well, it doesn’t seem to be an ideal situation for Leonard.

With the addition of Anthony Davis, it doesn’t seem likely that Kawhi would be interested in being a potential third option on the Lakers. While the addition of Leonard would immediately place the Lakers as heavy favourites to win it all, he has never been one to chase rings.

The Raptors and Clippers both offer Leonard compelling arguments as to why he should stay or go. The Raptors have proven that they have the support to surround Leonard with a championship team. Not only that, but the entire country has gotten behind Kawhi so quickly, in a way that has never been seen before.

The Clippers offer Leonard the opportunity to feel closer to home. Not only that, but they have the ability to sign a second superstar to accompany Leonard.

Both teams have the ability to offer Kawhi championship-caliber teams.

There’s a long list of reasons for why Kawhi could sign with either team, but it ultimately will come down to which opportunity he feels is best for him.

The next few weeks will be interesting to say the least.

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