The Toronto Raptors will continue to bask in the glory of their first NBA championship Monday when they parade through the streets of downtown Toronto with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow.
It is the cherry on top of the greatest season in Raptors franchise history.
But after all the cheering from the fans falls silent and after the last piece of confetti hits the floor, the focus of this franchise will shift to the question all Raptors fans have been asking themselves since July 18, 2018. Where will Kawhi Leonard be playing in 2019-20?
Leonard was acquired by Toronto from San Antonio, along with Danny Green, last summer in a trade that sent Raptors fan favourite DeMar DeRozan and other pieces to the Spurs.
At that moment, and throughout the season — even after the final buzzer sounded in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last Thursday — team management and fans were given no assurances by Leonard that he’d stick around long term.
After winning another title and his second NBA Finals MVP (joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win the award with two different teams), Leonard will have to decide between staying in Toronto and going for a second straight championship or taking his talents back to the United States.
NBA free agency opens June 30 at 6 p.m. ET, a day after Leonard celebrates his 28th birthday. Leonard will terminate the final year of his contract, a US$21.3-million player option, and then start negotiating a new deal with any team he chooses.
If he’s aiming to sign for the most money possible, even though he doesn’t appear to be that kind of guy, the Raptors will be able to offer Leonard the most money on a max contract of $19 million over five years ($38 million per season). The best every other team can do is a four-year deal worth about $140 million, which turns out to be $35 million a season.
If Leonard wants to be closer to his hometown of Los Angeles, he will look to strike a deal with the Clippers or Lakers, and the latter is adding New Orleans star Anthony Davis. The lure of playing in New York might also be tempting, which puts the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets in the mix.
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What all of those teams don’t have that the Raps do is a nucleus of star players who just proved that they can win when all the chips are on the table.
Even if Leonard leaves Toronto, he will forever be heralded as the man who powered the Raptors to NBA supremacy. If he stays long term, however, Leonard will be celebrated like a Greek god.
The waiting and wondering will soon be over. Now it’s up to Kawhi.