“It’s been good so far. Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”
That was Kawhi Leonard speaking to NBC Sports back in December about his experience in Toronto, although it sounds like one of the meaningless cliches that fill Leonard’s postseason press conferences now. A postseason where Leonard has looked like his best self and been right there with Kevin Durant for best player in the playoffs. Leonard’s comment above is vague says nothing really about the big question hanging over Toronto and their star heading into Game 5 Tuesday night:
What will Leonard do as a free agent this summer?
Head home to Southern California, where the Clippers are considered the favorites for his services, choose to stay in Toronto, or maybe surprise everyone with another destination?
“I do think they’ve made pretty good progress with him from the sense I have. They put themselves in it. And when Kawhi showed up there, I’m not sure he imagined any future in Toronto. I do think it’s a serious consideration now….
“I think the Kawhi thing is getting really interesting there. For them to just get through this series and get to a Conference Final, every day is the case you’re making. And, oh by the way, ‘we can pay you more than anybody else. If you want to be in L.A. and you want to live there in the offseason, there’s only so many days you really have to be in Toronto in the snow. You can get out of here. You’re on the road half the time. The rest of the year, you can get out of here and go in L.A. and be in California.’
“But Toronto is selling winning on him.”
The Raptors do have the money card to play. They are projected to be able to offer him $190 over five years while the most any other team can offer is $141 million over four years. That’s a lot of guaranteed money for a guy who has battled injury issues costing him a season. (The exact figures will depend on what the salary cap is set at just before July 1.)
Back in December, Leonard blew off the weather concerns saying, “just wear a jacket.” Of course, that was just December, and besides what else was he going to say? Leonard doesn’t tip his hand. His crew is inexperienced but has followed his lead.
Which is why there’s a lot of speculation to fill the void of real information. The Raptors have senses and impressions, but they do not know. Nobody really does.
The Raptors have made their case: Winning, money, and they did a fantastic job letting him set his own course for “load management” and recovery so he would feel fresh for the playoffs. Toronto did everything right. If Leonard bolts this summer, then the decision was made before he arrived and nothing was going to change it (and it was still a good gamble by the Raptors).
The Clippers have been a presence around Leonard all season, making sure that people from their organization could be seen, and they likely will get the chance to make their case. Other teams may as well, although sources around the league have long considered those the two frontrunners.
Give Toronto credit, they have played this hand brilliantly. Whether it’s enough to win the pot at the end of the day remains to be seen. It’s hard to predict because Leonard has a great poker face.