As of Tuesday, Dec. 4, the Toronto Raptors are off to one of their best starts in franchise history.
At 20-5, with the best record in the NBA, the blockbuster trade where Toronto acquired Kawhi Leonard from San Antonio has seemed to already been paying off. Not only is Leonard fitting into the team as its leader, but the surrounding players are gelling with the new face of the franchise perfectly and Toronto is looking like a strong candidate to finish with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Leonard, who will become a free-agent in 2019 (although he has a $21.3 million player option), will be faced with a very tough decision to leave or stay in Toronto. Not only did he recently purchase a home close by, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is having success so far as a Raptor—if it continues he’d be silly to leave.
Danny Green, who was also a fixture in the Raptors/Spurs deal with him landing in Canada, admits the city of Toronto will be hard to leave for Leonard.
“I don’t know where his mind is at for the future. I can’t predict or tell you. I can just tell you that the city of Toronto is gonna be hard to turn down after being there,” Green said on his Inside the Green Room podcast, via Wael Saghir of The Score. “I’ve been going every summer for the past 10-plus years. It’s a great city, and the fans are amazing.”
There are three strong arguments to why Leonard will stay in Toronto; some off-the-court reasons and some on.
3. Defense, Defense, Defense
Kawhi Leonard replacing former Raptors guard DeMar Derozan in the team’s lineup not only adds another spectacular offense force into the system but also an elite defender. Leonard, and as mentioned above, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, is the leader of a Toronto Raptors team who has a knack for defense.
New head coach Nick Nurse has been known for defensive acumen since he began coaching college basketball in the late 1980s to early 1990s and NBA G-League basketball in the early 2000s. Nurse finally got his opportunity to show off his defensive schemes in the NBA when hired in 2018, and he has a few of the best defensive players in the league under him.
Leonard, as well as Serge Ibaka—a three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member—Jonas Valanciunas, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby make for a death lineup on defense. All players mentioned range from 6-foot-6 through 6-foot-11, weighing between 200-235 pounds and have an average wingspan of 7-foot-2, with only Green falling just short of seven feet.
Last season, Toronto had a top-five defensive rating, and with head coach Nurse and Leonard on board, the defense may be what will help solidify a spot in the 2019 NBA Finals.
2. Leonard/Lowry Relationship
When it was announced guard DeMar Derozan was traded away from Toronto, the Toronto Raptors fans were saddened by the news. Not only was Derozan unexpectedly dealt, but his friendship with teammate Kyle Lowry was forever changed.
Derozan and Lowry were like brothers as teammates from 2012-2017 and were always attached at the hip whether leading Toronto into the playoffs or cracking jokes on one another in postgame interviews. After the Leonard trade, Lowry admitted it would be tough playing with another star other than Derozan and even was said to be reluctant with getting close with Leonard during the months leading up to the 2018-19 season.
Lowry may miss Derozan, but he must be loving Toronto’s strong start. Lowry is putting up terrific numbers averaging over 15 points and 10 assists to start the season and he and Leonard are looking like a terrific one-two punch for Toronto’s starting lineup.
The Lowry/Derozan duo worked for many years, but it was time for a change. Lowry and Leonard’s relationship may be rocky in the beginning, but if the two continue to gel on-and-off the court, Toronto is in for a treat.
1. Leonard Buys House in Toronto
One of the biggest questions in NBA basketball today is if Kawhi Leonard will stay with Toronto or sign elsewhere in the summer of 2019.
One thing that is in the Raptors’ favor other than its winning ways is that Leonard purchased a home in Toronto in September.
— Peter Yannopoulos (@PeteYannopoulos) September 9, 2018
Of course, nothing is set in stone, but Leonard settling down in a home he purchased, not rented could mean he is interested in staying in Canada for the long haul. Following his first season with the Raptors, the team can offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million contract. If he decides to leave, though, he will have an opportunity to sign a four-year, $141 million deal with another team.
Reports around the league show Leonard has interest in the Lakers, 76ers, and Celtics. Whether Leonard will be loyal to his new city or will move elsewhere will be interesting to see next summer.
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