Raptors didn’t lose in free agency, but Kawhi Leonard certainly won

After bringing the Raptors franchise their first ever NBA Championship, Kawhi has chosen to go back home and play for the Clippers. Donnovan Bennett explains why you should not be mad at his decision.

Oh, to be Kawhi Leonard: to vacate a championship city and leave a smoking, emotional crater and go to one of the biggest media markets in the world after forcing your new team to strip itself of every future asset:

And still have people wish you God speed.

Forget Board Man getting paid. This is Teflon Man getting paid.

From the best available reporting, it now seems as if Leonard not only ended up in the city he wanted to be in all along — remember, he wanted to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers when the San Antonio Spurs were fixing to move him last season — but he also played a little hardball, too. He did what NBA stars have done since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, only in a quieter, closed fist-inside-a-velvet-glove kind of way.

Richard Deitsch, my co-host from 4-7 p.m. on Sportsnet 590, debated this very notion on Friday: Where could Kawhi Leonard best continue to build on his legacy? We both agreed the Lakers were a little whorish. Deitsch said Toronto and I said the Clippers, where I’d felt he was headed all along.

I still feel that Leonard chose the ballsiest path: throwing in his lot with the Clippers and lifting that franchise into favoured status over LeBron and Anthony Davis and the Lakers, who truth must be told have been dining off their history for the past five years. The teams share a city and an arena, but they don’t share the hearts of the city’s basketball culture.

Now Leonard can maybe win a third title with a third different team — he’s taken less money to do so and now has a chance to maybe settle all the ghosts surrounding a franchise that was the Buffalo Braves before moving to San Diego; a franchise that has had some nice players and some pretty moments but was also once owned by Donald Sterling, a man who was forced to sell the franchise because of racist comments. Pro sports has had some truly awful owners — to make it on the Mt. Douchemore of that list is something. But Sterling managed it.

Yet I have to admit: Leonard looks a little less bold, in my mind, because of the fact it is now apparent that part of the delay in his decision-making stemmed from him wanting to give the Clippers time to work out a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George — a deal that will put this franchise on the back heel if, say, Leonard gets hurt. He also seems to have chatted up Kevin Durant. Come to think of it, isn’t what Leonard did in allegedly talking to George tampering?

Do I think less of Kawhi Leonard this morning? Yeah. A little. Just as the late Roy Halladay essentially forced the timing of his trade from the Toronto Blue Jays, something Doc’s myth-making buddies in the media conveniently overlooked.

The argument vis a vis Leonard’s legacy had he stayed with the Raptors is easier to make on this side of the border but, in truth, I’m not sure there’s much more he could do here. Burnish the NBA’s international foot-print? Help turn this into a basketball country? One’s already been done, the other’s well on its way to being accomplished. Win another title? Yeah, “running it back” is great for us but I’m not sure it’s seen that way by the chattering classes south of the border, who already seemed to be getting a little cranky about having to flash their passport to see the NBA champions. Americans don’t travel all that well anymore.

But here’s the thing: What if Kawhi doesn’t give a crap about his legacy? I’m betting he doesn’t care one way or another, and is more than happy to let the rest of us talk about it.

Board Man don’t care. Board Man don’t need to care.

I don’t think the Raptors lost free agency. I don’t think they lost any currency out of all this, as a matter of fact. But I do know this: Kawhi Leonard won free agency. Board Man may not have gotten completely paid in terms of salary, but he got what he wanted and I have to really work at it to be at all pissed off at how this played out.

NOW TWEET THIS

Some random Blue Jays observations at the All-Star Break:

• I don’t care an iota about the offence. He’ll be fine. But I have seen nothing to suggest Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can play third base. The Jays have even deviated from preferred positioning to help him and still no bueno #ifatfirst

• You know who I want to hear from about Aaron Sanchez? His agent, Scott Boras #h-e-l-p

• What happens if Bo Bichette gets here and starts putting up better offensive numbers than Vladdy? How much pressure does that put on Junior? Know this: He’s a better fit at shortstop than Guerrero is at third #soldshort

• The scorecard so far: Cavan Biggio better than expected, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. better than expected now that he’s in left field. Vladdy? He looks like a 20-year-old #age

• I need to see Ryan Borucki make back-to-back big-league starts before I consider moving Marcus Stroman in a trade any time other than the off-season #innings

• Stop dumping Gatorade on each other. You’re a bazillion games out of first place and, if you’re Rowdy Tellez, probably have no reason to feel the sense of entitlement it represents #bigleagues

• Freddy Galvis’s option needs to be guaranteed and he needs to stay. Even with Bo and Cavan here, manager Charlie Montoyo will channel his inner Rays sensibilities and figure out a way to get him his at-bats #valuable

THE ENDGAME

Here’s something for Mitch Marner’s camp to think about: While it’s all fun and games for Papa Marner to leak out musings about offer sheets, what happens if Marner actually signs one of the things and forces the Leafs hand in negotiations? Have fun explaining to the fan base that the hometown kid decided he’d hold the Leafs’ feet to the fire in order to get paid an extra $1 million or so.

I mean, it’s business and all that and I’m 100 per cent behind professional athletes getting more money — truth is, most of them are grossly underpaid when it comes to value they offer and I’m not certain there’s a fan out there who buys tickets to watch people own teams — but it would certainly take away from the warm, cuddly image of wee, smiling Mitchie.

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