The next year will be a fun one in terms of Raptors basketball, however, much like in OKC with Paul George, the recruitment of Toronto’s newly acquired superstar will remain in the back of everyone’s mind throughout. Everybody knows the story. Kawhi Leonard is determined to become a Los Angeles Laker next year, and that didn’t change at all when he was shipped to Toronto.
While Kawhi’s intentions would be the same wherever he went, it remains true that the average player traded to Toronto tends to give it an eyeroll and plan their escape. Though the orginization has emerged as being top-tier, the idea of playing in Toronto has a certain stench for the average uninformed player.
As we kick off our year-long journey with Kawhi, let’s look at some cases in the past where players have done a 180 and fallen in love with Toronto.
When Kyle Lowry was traded to the Raptors in 2012, it was seen as the Houston Rockets moving a rather mediocre piece to clear the way for Goran Dragic to start. From Lowry’s perspective, Toronto was a temporary stop before his 2014 free agency.
“I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly but he will tell you. My first year with Kyle, me and Kyle didn’t say a word to one another, we didn’t speak,” DeRozan once told Adrian Wojnarowski on his podcast. “We didn’t have a conversation, we didn’t hang out, we didn’t go eat, we didn’t sit next to each another. Nothing. I didn’t have his phone number. Nothing.”
This wasn’t a coincidence, either. Lowry made a point of not finding real connections with teammates because, well, he thought he was good as gone. DeRozan said Lowry kept his distance from all the Raptors, believing he would not be in Toronto long.
Then, after a substantial amount of time with the team, something clicked. As a coveted free agent in July 2014, he re-signed with the Raptors to a four-year, $48 million contract, marking one of the greatest successes in the team’s history, and another big contract in the 2017 offseason. Kyle Lowry fell in love with Toronto.
Patterson, who played three years with the Raptors, is another excellent example. His Player’s Tribune piece highlights him coming to know and love Toronto after initially being against the idea after he was traded here.
In the piece, Patterson recounts his initial thoughts on the trade: “To be honest, my first thought was, Damn, it’s cold as shit in Toronto.”—and some initial impressions of his new home—“I remember as the pilot told us that we were about to descend, I pulled up the window shade and all I saw was … white. Just white everywhere. I’d been traded to the North Pole.”
“As soon as we got dropped off at our hotel, I called my agent and told him to do whatever he had to do to get me out of Toronto,” Patterson admits. But by the time his agent called to tell him there were other teams interested, Patterson’s opinion had completely changed. “When I started getting to know Toronto, I fell in love with the city,” he writes. “If you come here, you will too.”
“If you told me two years ago that I’d be a Toronto Raptor, I would have thought you were crazy. But here I am, freezing my ass off, smiling and winning basketball games.”
While Kawhi is unlikely to stay, a lot happens in a year, and he will be devoting his life to the franchise and city for the immediate future. At this point, he doesn’t really know what he’s getting himself into, and is assumed to hold the negative connotations associated with playing in Toronto that the average US-born player has.
In a year, while the outcome could very well remain what is expected, his perception will be much different.