Raptors Lead

Uncertain Future Lies Ahead in Toronto

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The Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes ultimately came to an end early Saturday morning, as the 2x Finals MVP inked a 3-year, $103 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. Although it wasn’t the decision they were hoping for, the Raptors and their fans can rest easy knowing they did everything they possibly could to keep Kawhi north of the border.

Kawhi left despite being loved by an entire country, and winning a championship. If someone leaves after that, it means they were never going to stay.

After news of the signing broke, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski announced that the Clippers had also acquired Paul George from Oklahoma City in a massive deal.

With two title contending teams in the same arena, it’s safe to say that the battle of Los Angeles is on.

High Risk, High Reward

For the Raptors, however, this was always a likely possibility. Toronto knew that re-signing Leonard would be an uphill battle from the moment he was traded. Kawhi didn’t seem interested in playing for Toronto. He wanted to play in Los Angeles, but Raps President Masai Ujiri took a gamble. A gamble on not only the team and Leonard, but a gamble on his job security. Who knows where Masai would be now had the Leonard deal not panned out. But now, following the Raptors’ first ever NBA championship, it’s clear to see that the risk was worth it.

Toronto and Canada need to thank Kawhi. He gave Raptors fans the championship that no one has ever been able to give them. For that, Raptors fans will be forever grateful.

But the Raptors now need to look towards a future without Kawhi Leonard. While the departure of the Board Man is definitely tough, Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster have put Toronto in a strong position to move forward.

Uncertain Future Lying Ahead?

In a future of uncertainty, one thing is clear. The Raptors will not be contending for a championship next year. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors need to acquire assets and prepare for their next championship window.

Now let’s remember the Raptors are still a strong team without Leonard. This will not be the stereotypical rebuild that has become popular in recent years. Toronto is not a team that will find themselves in the lottery, fishing for young prospects. They went 17-5 last season in games where Leonard sat out. It’s clear that this team can compete without Leonard, just not for a championship.

Toronto will likely look to unload some of their veterans for draft picks and youngsters. While the Raptors have no shortage of experienced vets, moving them may be easier said than done. With some vets like Kyle Lowry ($33.3 million), Serge Ibaka ($23.3 million) and Marc Gasol ($25.6 million) making big money next year, contending teams may be hesitant to pull the trigger on them. With all three players heading into the final year of their contracts, the Raptors can reap the benefits of their expiring deals.

Regardless of whether or not the Raptors are able to acquire assets, the focus of the team will now turn to Pascal Siakam and the other young talent on the roster. Despite having a fantastic piece in Siakam, there are still many questions to be answered for the Raptors and their youth. How high is Siakam’s ceiling? Is Fred VanVleet a starting-caliber guard in this league? Can OG Anunoby develop into a top tier player?

The silver lining to Kawhi’s departure is that these questions have a better chance of being answered this season. The young guns are expected take on a lot more responsibility, and they will.

For now, the Raptors still have work to do. With Danny Green headed to the Lakers, Toronto will be very active over the remainder of free agency to fill out their roster. Toronto has reportedly reached agreements with both Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, along with undrafted guard Terence Davis.

What Does Next Year Look Like?

The 2019-2020 season will be huge for the Toronto Raptors moving forward. Despite the loss of Leonard, the Raptors are more than capable of being a strong team in the playoff picture. If they are able to unload some of the older guys, expect the Raptors to hold onto that cap space. With some strong moves from Masai, the Raptors can put themselves in a strong position to sign max-level talent in the near future, without putting the team into a full rebuild. Their next championship window could be right around the corner.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James are both set to hit free agency in two years. With a player-option in the third year for both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the 2021 free agency could be one for the books. Raptors fans are excited to say the least.

Who knows, maybe Masai Ujiri still has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

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