Toronto Raptors Place Blind Bet On Kawhi Leonard
The Mystery of Kawhi
Will he be an NBA finals MVP, malcontent or neither?
Kawhi Leonard’s never been the sort who airs his business in public, starting with his innocuous introduction into the NBA, including his rise to superstardom and fall from the Spurs graces. There’s little official word from Leonard himself throughout his estrangement with San Antonio. Nobody knows the status of his health and the progress of his rehabilitation.
Questions remain unanswered for nearly every important issue. How did the rift between Kawhi and the Spurs start? Why did the Spurs toss shade at an injured Kawhi? Is this a case of misdiagnosis or misdirection? Will Kawhi even show up? Months will pass before fans learn more, leaving space for speculation.
Ideally, Leonard plays to his full potential after spending a season on the mend, recapturing his elite two-way game. Kawhi, Kyle, Anunoby, Green, Miles, Van Vleet and Wright will form the deepest perimeter in the association, locking down the arc while splashing threes over the opposition.
This will take some of the pressure off Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valaciunas. Pascal Siakam’s fast enough to run with anyone – he’ll miss his buddy Jakob, but if Pascal develops a serviceable three-point shot, the Raptors will be impossible to defend on some evenings.
Do not discount the presence of Danny Green, an elite three-and-d presence who operates in the shadow of Spurs greats like Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Kawhi. Green’s hit 37.1% of his threes over the past two years, down from his career average of 39.5%.
A rotation filled with three-point shooters could create more space for Danny. He’s also one of the very best transition defenders, a genius with chase down blocks.
But this trade boils down to Kawhi playing at a high level in cold weather. Anything less than a great season from Leonard will result in a complete teardown of the Raptors franchise.
Masai Ujiri Goes All In On River Card
There’s few executives as well connected as GM Masai Ujiri, who seems to discover value in most important transactions, excepting Carroll and Caboclo.
Reputable information about the status of Kawhi Leonard remains scarce, but Ujiri might have an inside line on his health status and motivations entering the 2018-19 season. San Antonio’s an incredible organization, but they’re not perfect, capable of ostracizing elite talent like Kawhi. Casting shade at Leonard wasn’t a good look, reducing Kawhi’s trade value while ensuring his exit.
“Can’t trust ‘em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing”, DeMar DeRozan.
There’s large stakes on the table for Kawhi and Ujiri, with both careers hanging in the balance. Leonard left tens of millions of dollars behind to demand a trade. Leaving the Raptors will cost Kawhi even more, reducing his earning power by up to $80 million in total. If Leonard has another bad year, he could be costing himself $100 million or more in the long run.
GM Ujiri needs to convince Kawhi to take a max contract while highlighting the Raptors as a world-class organization. Losing Leonard to the Lakers or Clippers will almost certainly trigger another transition, including the jobs of Ujiri and members of his team.
Trading DeRozan Risks Franchise Identity
Kawhi’s good enough to lift the Raptors into the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history. Defeating the Golden State Warriors will still require a small miracle in 2019, unless injuries decimate the Dubs. Will an appearance in the NBA finals be enough to justify trading one of the greatest athletes in Toronto sports history?
Finding a better citizen than DeMar DeRozan is next to impossible. Hailing from Compton, DeMar overcame tall odds through relentless hard work, sticking with a Toronto Raptors franchise which typically experiences a difficult time attracting and retaining elite free agent talent.
All signs point to the club lying to DeRozan. A few influential NBA stars already expressed disdain for the trade. DeMar’s respected around the association for his respect to the craft, his peers and his community. Players will remember that the Raptors lied to DeMar. If Leonard leaves, Toronto’s reputation may need time to recover.
Raptors Will Win If Kawhi Plays
Sports leaves no room for sentimentality. This trade will be remembered as a watershed for the Raptors if the best-case scenario follows through. Sportsbooks still list the Boston Celtics as the team to beat in the weak NBA east, possessing a +650 future line to win the NBA championship outright. Toronto’s odds to win a ring sit at +2000, just behind the Philadelphia 76ers at +1500.
If Kawhi returns to the NBA at a high level, the Toronto Raptors should be considered co-favorites to win the east alongside the Boston Celtics. At his peak, Leonard’s the MVP of the eastern conference, and the best player has emerged victorious in the eastern conference finals eight years in a row – just ask LeBron.
The amount of uncertainty surrounding Kawhi prevents Toronto from being considered the best team in the east. As such, the Raptors might offer the best betting value of all NBA clubs before the 2018-19 campaign. If Leonard shows up at 100% and leads Toronto to early success, betting on the Raptors will quickly grow expensive.
Losing DeMar DeRozan leaves a void in the heart of almost all Raptors fans. The fate of Kawhi Leonard will determine whether Toronto stole an All-NBA first team superstar or traded their respectability for a longshot at the Golden State Warriors.
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