The Raptors trade for Kawhi Leonard isn’t exactly solid ground for the franchise. Aside from moving their former All-star in DeMar DeRozan, a first rounder, and a young big man talent in Jakob Poeltl, Leonard committing for the long haul is still a lingering question for the team.
It is a given when healthy Leonard is one of the best two-way players in the league. Despite his well-documented desire to play for a Los Angeles based team, there might be that glimmer of hope that the four-time All-star might give the North a chance.
If things go hypothetically south for the Toronto franchise, how bad will the Raptors’ position be in the summer of 2019?
In a way, they went all in for Leonard moving all those assets. If he makes no commitment to resign or even make his desire to leave public, the Raptors will be in a compromising position.
If the former Finals MVP plays back to All-star from which is expected, he will get the leverage that he needs to be put in an ideal situation for 2019, a destination that he wants to play for. Teams can just wait for next summer and wait for Leonard as a free agent, and that spells disaster for the Toronto.
They will be forced to move him for whatever they can get in order to save face from getting nothing in return. The teams around the league can low ball the Raptors into a bad deal knowing they are in a desperate position to just take something back.
Even if Kawhi were adamant to leave, they are going to have a hard time to play free agency 2019 with huge guaranteed contracts on Kyle Lowry (until 2020) and Serge Ibaka (until 2020). Jonas Valanciunas’ player option on his contract will definitely play a part as well. A masterful talent of balancing cap room and roster moves will be needed to get out of this rut.
However, the 26-year-old Lithuanian center is definitely an asset heading into his prime. Glimpses of evolution into the modern game with a serviceable three-point shot make him even more valuable nowadays. It should be imperative that they lock him up on a long-term contract for the future of the Raptors.
To sum it up, their big gamble on Leonard might become the worst decision in Raptors history when they realize that Leonard is just going to be a one-year rental that they eventually flip for scraps, couldn’t get a high profile name for next summer due to bad contracts, and realizing that they lost an All-star, a pick, and a young talent in the process.
Moreover, this mess makes them a less than desiring destination to play for. On top of that, they go back into irrelevance with all those losses, which prompts a slow and painful rebuild for the future.
Fortunately for the Raptors, a gamble can surely pay off. While their trade on Kawhi may turn out to be the worst thing to happen to the franchise, it can also turn into the best thing to happen to them. With a possible championship and even dynasty that could brew in the North, NBA fortunes will always be decided with risks and gambles.