Currently the 24th-best men’s singles player in the world, and the top Canadian among that crop, it’s fair to assume Ontario’s Milos Raonic has his hands full keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of his own sport. But that hasn’t stopped him from leaving one eye trained on the one he grew up watching, and his beloved Toronto Raptors‘ bevy of off-season changes.
It’s been a hectic summer for the franchise. But Raonic — who knows a thing or two about carrying that national mantle at the highest level — believes his hometown team did what was necessary to find progress when they traded away franchise icon DeMar DeRozan to land the unquestionably elite Kawhi Leonard.
“We had to go get Kawhi,” he told The New York Times‘ Marc Stein at the U.S. Open recently when asked about the high-profile swap. “In Toronto, we’ve never had a Finals MVP. We could never get past LeBron and the Cavs.
“We were stagnant. I think something big needed to happen, because we probably weren’t going to go any farther.”
There’s no question the 27-year-old’s sentiment is felt by the majority of the Raptors faithful, at least when it comes to the need to find a way to break through the playoff wall.
Something had to give, according to the former Wimbledon finalist, as finding playoff improvement has become the only thing Toronto’s fanbase is looking for at this point.
“As a Raptors fan, who cares about the regular season?” Raonic told Stein. “If they won 60 games next season — if they won 65 games — no one would care unless they did well in the playoffs.”
Though Raonic seems to be on board with the move, he said he wasn’t thrilled about how the deal came together, particularly in terms of how the Raptors treated one of the best to ever don their colours.
But the prize at the end of the line helps quell those issues.
“Other than the way DeRozan was made to feel about it — because I think he’s been our best franchise player to this point — I was extremely excited about it.”
With good reason. While significant questions remain regarding what happens after the 2018-19 season, the Raptors and their fans are seemingly set to see one year of Leonard either way, health permitting — something the 2014 Spurs, whom Leonard led to a Larry O’Brien Trophy with an MVP-clinching performance, know is no small prize.
Raonic said he has faith in his home province winning over the Los Angeles native and keeping him in the fold past next season, especially once Leonard sees the potential benefits of playing for a franchise that has a stranglehold on an entire country’s basketball fandom — “if he wants that big shoe deal, Toronto is that kind of market” — but, even if things don’t pan out, it appears he’s fine with Masai Ujiri and Co. rolling the dice.
Asked how angry he’ll be if Leonard bolts as a free agent after the 2018-19 campaign — now the leading fear among Canadian basketball fans — Raonic’s answer was simple.
“I won’t be — but I think he’s going to stay.”