Raptors offseason preview: Toronto makes its final case to Kawhi Leonard
Raptors offseason: Big issues
So . . . that Kawhi Leonard trade worked out pretty well.
In his first season with the Raptors, Leonard returned to All-Star status, averaging 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He then saw his production jump in the playoffs to 30.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals, helping Toronto win its first NBA championship.
Team president Masai Ujiri, coach Nick Nurse, Raptors players, the training staff – each piece allowed Leonard to thrive. He particularly appreciated the team’s load management strategy, which kept Leonard fresh for the postseason. The Raptors really couldn’t have handled their one guaranteed year with Leonard any better.
There has already been speculation about Leonard accepting a short-term deal to stay in Toronto, and that makes for both sides. Marc Gasol has a $25.5 million player option and Danny Green is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby are all under contract through 2019-20. This could be essentially the same team with Leonard at the center of it all.
Leonard will turn 28 at the end of June, so he could sign a one-plus-one contract (first year guaranteed with a player option for the second year) and then re-evaluate during the 2020 offseason. If he likes what he sees, then he can re-sign with the Raptors again. If not, Toronto can clear the books and start over after a successful gamble by Ujiri.
Outside of Leonard, the Raptors should strongly consider keeping Gasol and Green on short deals to match a potential Leonard timeline. They both displayed tremendous chemistry with this group. Gasol in particular promoted more passing and movement while providing an inside presence on defense after he was acquired at the trade deadline. He could be willing to decline his player option if Toronto offers multiple years. (This is the part where you have to ask why he would turn down $25.5 million. It’s a fair question.)
The Raptors just completed the greatest season in franchise history. Ujiri would love a chance to run it back at least one more time.
Raptors offseason: Free-agent outlook
Raptors offseason: The young folks
VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby will remain key parts of Nurse’s rotation. There’s no need to worry about them just yet.
For now, the main young guy is Patrick McCaw, who left the Warriors for the Cavaliers following an ugly holdout and then signed with the Raptors in January after being released by the Cavs. The 23-year-old guard didn’t play much for Toronto, averaging just 2.7 points in 26 games. He was limited to mostly garbage time during the playoffs.
Despite his underwhelming performance, McCaw has flashed intriguing potential. At 6-7 with a 6-10 wingspan, he’s built like the ideal modern forward, and if a team invests in his development, he could possibly fit into the 3-and-D mold.
That’s all speculation about what McCaw could be, though. His talent doesn’t outweigh the concerns about his attitude at this point in his career. If the Raptors feel McCaw can turn a corner in Toronto, then it’s worth taking a cheap flier on him, but don’t be shocked if they use that roster spot for someone else.
Raptors offseason: Wait till next year . . .
Even if Leonard walks, that blockbuster trade last summer gave the Raptors everything they could have wanted. Ujiri can sleep soundly knowing that not only did he put Toronto in position to win a title, he also didn’t give away all of his assets in order to acquire a superstar.
This won’t be more than a blip on the radar of NBA history without Leonard on board for the future, however. He is the difference-maker, the man who removed the choker label and elevated this franchise far above what many fans thought was possible.
The Raptors spent the whole year preparing for this moment. It’s time to close the deal.
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