Rick Zamperin: What if Kawhi Leonard doesn’t stay in Toronto?
It’s the one question Toronto Raptors fans have refused to think about or even acknowledge.
It’s the “what if,” and you know the one. What if Kawhi Leonard decides to leave Toronto when he becomes a free agent?
NBA free agency opens Sunday night and we already know that Leonard, who carried the Raptors to their first championship earlier this month, is planning to meet with a handful of teams next week.
Both Los Angeles-based clubs, the Lakers and the Clippers, are on Leonard’s agenda, as are the New York Knicks and the Raptors.
Word is the Raptors will make the final pitch to Leonard in an effort to convince him that playing in Toronto will give him the best opportunity to win another NBA title.
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And we know that virtually the same crew — Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Paskal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Normal Powell — that teamed up with Leonard this past season will return for the 2019-20 campaign.
Winning a championship in Toronto, having a great rapport with the team, being idolized by a rabid fanbase, and being comfortable in the city are all major factors that Kawhi will have to weigh against any potential suitor.
Going home to L.A. and being the star attraction with the Clippers, perhaps with Jimmy Butler, will be enticing.
Playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers — the Lakers! — may be too hard to pass up.
Or the lure of restoring the iconic brand of the Knicks, possibly with Kevin Durant as a running mate, could pull Leonard to the Big Apple.
If he goes, and that is still a big if at this point, it won’t be the end of the world for the Raptors.
Don’t get me wrong, losing Leonard in free agency will be a massive blow to the team, the city, and the fans, but Toronto’s championship run is still fresh in the minds of other high-profile free agents who will certainly look north in the hopes to duplicating what Kawhi did.
If the ‘what if’ happens, the Raptors will still be a force in the Eastern Conference — and with the addition of another talented player on the floor, they should still be considered an NBA Finals contender.
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