After countless reports of Kawhi ruling out the Clippers in a Mexican standoff between the Lakers and the Raptors, the Finals MVP shocked the NBA free agency world with his decision. As reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Leonard will sign with the Los Angeles Clippers for $142 million for four years. To add further chaos to the report, it was revealed that Leonard was intent on playing alongside another superstar rather than joining Lebron and AD. That superstar was none other than fellow LA-native, Paul George, who requested a trade out of OKC immediately after Leonard allegedly contacted him about joining the Clippers together. An insane turn-of-events that left excited Laker fans devastated, and hopeful Raptor fans– heartbroken.
Kawhi reluctant to commit
Despite the Raptors winning it all in June, there was still doubt that Kawhi would re-sign. There was always a hint of divide between him and the Raptors — not in the sense that he didn’t devote himself to the team on the court, but more towards reiterating his professional role on the Raptors. Kawhi was under contract for one more year. He would do his job, that is, play basketball for the Raptors and win big. What he does after that is up to nobody but himself. Furthermore, the success of the Raptors this season also put the initial reports coming from the Kawhi trade into the shadows. Haynes, who ironically tweeted the Raptors’ heartbreaking defeat in free agency to the Clippers, also delivered a tweet that mentioned Kawhi not wanting to play in Toronto last year. The tweet aged terribly, but it was vague enough that it turned out to be somewhat true. Kawhi, at the end of the day, made the best of his situation by winning Canada their first NBA Championship, even though his ultimate intention was to go home during free agency. Just as Kawhi said at the insane Raptors parade before mocking his own laugh, ‘enjoy this moment and have fun with it.’ Kawhi enjoyed his time with the Raptors, and it resulted in their best playoff run yet.
With Kawhi out of the picture and Danny Green moving on, the Spurs rentals are gone. The Raptors have enough depth to remain competitive in the East, but it’ll be tough to make a valuable playoff run with conference juggernauts like the Sixers and the Bucks. Another team to watch out for is the Pacers, who quietly made roster changes like trading for former Suns forward T.J. Warren for practically nothing. Other moves also include signing Malcolm Brogdon and notorious Raptor-killer, Jeremy Lamb. What’s both an unconcern and a concern for the Raptors is the 2020-2021 season. An unconcern because the Raptors will have plenty of cap space to recreate their roster. A concern because only two players are on the books for that season — OG Anunoby and Norman Powell. The 2020 free agency class is also weak, headlined by Anthony Davis who will more than likely accept his player option to continue his time with the Lakers. The Raptors, in addition, will probably make it a priority to re-sign Pascal Siakam, who will be playing in the final year of his rookie contract in the 2019-2020 season.
Be wary of incoming trade rumours
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka will all be expiring contracts next season. Lowry and Gasol are 33 and 34, respectively, while Ibaka’s game is already declining at 29 years old. All very capable players in their own right, but it’ll be tough to predict the Raptors making it out of the East again without remarkable improvement from reigning MIP, Pascal Siakam, and Anunoby. Trade rumours will probably circulate around the Raptors’ older core, and it’ll be promising to see if the front office is even able to package out their expiring vets for picks. Raptor fans can cross their fingers, hope the older players’ games age well and stay competitive enough to develop the younger players.
Let’s see our rookies put in some work next year, and Raptor fans can only hope for the best with the Larry O’Brien trophy in Toronto.