Is a Kawhi Leonard Departure from Toronto Inevitable?
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Is a Kawhi Leonard Departure from Toronto Inevitable?

Kawhi Leonard gives the Raptors the biggest boom or bust potential out of any team in the NBA heading into the offseason. If he stays, the Raptors will continue to be contenders in the east, if he goes, Toronto likely heads into a rebuilding phase centered around Pascal Siakam. Even if Toronto advances to the NBA Finals, or lose to the Bucks, does Kawhi still leave despite the success? The answer is, yes.

Last summer on July 18th, the San Antonio Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. The deal shocked the NBA world and devastated DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors were going all in for a push to win the NBA title, centered around the best two-way player in the game, in Kawhi Leonard. The only problem is that Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors organization had only one season to convince Kawhi to resign with the Raptors come July.

Kawhi has been rumored for years to sign for a Los Angeles team, where he is from. Kawhi Leonard will leave the Raptors this summer and be LA bound but there are a few reasons for why he should stay. Let’s start by talking about the reasons why Kawhi would stay in Toronto and resign.

Why would Kawhi Leonard resign with the Raptors?

The Raptors have made a solid pitch so far this season by having the second best record in the NBA at 58-24, and currently, waiting to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors won the east semis in seven games thanks to Kawhi’s seamlessly unending rim-bouncing buzz-beating game-winner over Joel Embiid, to beat the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Raptors have shown that they can win with this core they have centered around a generational superstar. Kawhi missed 22 games this season and despite that, the Raptors still managed to record the second most wins in the league. A lot of that is due to the rise of the Raptors’ young star, Pascal Siakam.

The 25-year-old Cameroonian averaged 16.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 3.1 APG while shooting 36.9 percent from deep. The long, athletic big has made Toronto one of the most dangerous transition teams in the league and provided Kawhi Leonard with a second option to score and take over games with an arsenal of offensive moves to score the basketball.

Kawhi Leonard can win now with this Raptors team, and even though Kyle Lowry is aging before our eyes, he has still managed to be an all-around contributor and all-star this season.

This is why Kawhi Leonard leaves Toronto this summer:

First, let’s talk about basketball reasons for why Kawhi leaves Toronto this summer. First, the Raptors have very little salary cap and roster flexibility given their current roster. An aging Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry are both set to get paid $25.5 million and $33.3 million next season along with $23 million for Serge Ibaka, and $10 million for Norman Powell is has been unplayable for much of the playoffs (via RealGM).

Kawhi and the Raptors have done well this year and are in a win now mode but long-term this team is going to stay the same and not change much. There won’t be teams wanting to take on the bad contracts and salaries of aging Marc Gasol, Lowry, and Serge Ibaka without Toronto unloading draft picks as compensation which would jeopardize their future.

Speaking of Kyle Lowry, let’s talk more about him and his contract. He is currently being paid $31 million and as I said earlier, Toronto will pay the aging all-star $33 million next year. Kawhi wants to win now and this roster is good enough to be a high seed in the playoffs but not good enough to win a championship. Without the flexibility to change the roster much until the summer of 2020, Kawhi would have to wait another year to see this team make a big change and I’m not sure Kawhi is patient enough to wait in cold Toronto for that.

“Toronto is a great city… it’s just been cold.” This was Kawhi Leonard’s comments when talking about Toronto during an interview during all-star weekend in Charlotte. Kawhi has been heard talking about how he favors the warm, sunny weather in his native state of California and Toronto is quite the opposite. Some even joked after he was traded that the Spurs sent him to the complete opposite type of place he would have wanted to go to after how things ended in San Antonio. The important thing is that you have to love where you play and live. Yes, these guys should just focus on basketball but NBA players’ lifestyle is also very important to them and their well-being. Los Angeles is close to Kawhi’s hometown of Riverside and Toronto is in Canada and far from Kawhi’s native state.

If you are a betting man, it would be wise to put your money on the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, not the Lakers) to land Kawhi this summer. There are many reasons to that, basketball and non-basketball related. For starters, the Clippers have immense roster flexibility and potential.

This summer LAC has two potential max slots available that can be used on Kawhi Leonard and other free agents such as Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, or Kyrie Irving to name a few. To go along with that the Clippers have Lou Williams on a very valuable three-year/$24 million dollar contract for the soon to be named the sixth man of the year once again. Along with Williams on a value deal, Montrezl Harrell is on the books for $6 million next season.

The Clippers are also loaded with young talent and draft assets. 20-year-old rookie, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and rookie sharpshooter, Landry Shamet, are both players that have had immediate impact starting for the Clippers even as they took the defending champion, Golden State Warriors, to 6 games in round one of the playoffs. Kawhi can look to those young guys and the value contracts on the books as a means for making a move to Los Angeles a no-brainer.

To top it all, the Clippers have enough first-round draft picks acquired via trade and young talent (most lately with Philadelphia for Tobias Harris) to potentially trade for Anthony Davis who has also been rumored to want to play in LA. There is no reason for Kawhi Leonard to not chose LA except for the fact that Toronto can offer him a full five-year/$190 million max.

The potential for Kawhi to win and have roster flexibility for better long-term success in Los Angeles makes a move from Toronto a no-brainer for the former Finals MVP. Kawhi Leonard can have the lifestyle and basketball success he wants if he leaves Toronto. Come on, Toronto is too cold right?