The Toronto Raptors are going to try.
It’s not going to be easy — they have a steeper mountain to climb than Oklahoma City did with Paul George — but the Raptors are going to spend this season working to convince Kawhi Leonard to stay in Toronto as a free agent next summer. Leonard says he’s keeping an open mind, but right now few around the league think the Raptors have much of a chance. Toronto is going to try, it already hired one of his good friends into the staff, and the franchise believes it has some things going for it, as team president Masai Ujiri said on ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.
“I think you want to be genuine, you want to be real. You know, this is who we are. We might not be the best ones in weather, but we might be the best ones in many other places: the diversity, the city, the uniqueness of a place like (Toronto), fans, the atmosphere. I think those things are so unique, it’s beginning to show everywhere. And then you have to put the basketball together. Maybe before the basketball wasn’t a part of it, but I know there’s a part of him that I’m sure thinks this team has a chance. With his teammates and seeing how hard these guys are working. We have to show who we are. There is no fake sales job here — this is what it is.”
Ujiri rolled the dice to get Leonard, sending fan favorite DeMar DeRozan, plus Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick, to the Spurs for Leonard and Danny Green. However, it wasn’t as huge a roll of the dice as some may think — Raptors management had surveyed the Eastern Conference landscape, and even with 59 wins last season and LeBron having headed West, Toronto’s window was small because of Boston/Philly. There were legitimate questions about how far a DeRozan and Kyle Lowry lead team could go. Leonard, if healthy and all the way back to MVP-level form, can change that dynamic, putting the Raptors in the conversation. Then if he leaves, well, the rebuild was coming.
Leonard reportedly has looked good in workouts — with Kobe Bryant and LeBron/Durant — something Ujiri touches on in the podcast. But looking good in a summer pick-up run and structured workouts and being game ready are two different things. We’ll see where Leonard is on that spectrum starting in a month, when the NBA season tips off. Then we start to see what number Ujiri rolled with those dice.