The 2014 Finals MVP and two-time defensive player of the year was acquired from the San Antonio Spurs along with veteran Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick.
The Raptors may have damaged some optics in severing ties with their most popular player, but acquired the calibre of superstar the club and it’s fan base have been clamouring for since the franchise’s inception more than two decades ago.
But you’d be remiss if you withheld excitement over landing a player of Leonard’s ability — at full health, he’s unquestionably a top-five player in today’s NBA — after hearing rumblings that Leonard (more specifically, his “camp”) expressed displeasure over being traded to Toronto.
“His camp made it very clear over the past week, to the Raptors and other teams, that Leonard wanted no part of Toronto, sources say,” wrote ESPN’s Zach Lowe after news of the trade broke.
“The Raptors didn’t care. They know any threat of failing to report is probably empty, since they can fine Leonard for each practice and game he misses — up to his full $20.1 million salary.”
There was even one report that went so far to report that Leonard would entertain the notion of sitting out next season entirely.
Enter: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, to pour a hefty dose of water on those flames.
During an appearance on the red carpet of Wednesday night’s ESPYs, Wojnarowski addressed the rumours of Leonard’s discontent and stated that the 27-year-old two-time all-star certainly plans to suit up for the Raptors, and that he’s expected to have fully recovered from a right quad injury that cost him all but nine games last season.
“They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp,” he said of the Raptors.
“[Leonard’s] going to play, he’ll be at training camp. He’s healthy,” he continued. “What I was told is that he’s starting to warm to the idea. He’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that can be as good as anybody in the Eastern conference. Now it’s up to Toronto to try to recruit him and keep him.”
Sportsnet confrims that the team has been in touch with Leonard and his camp and that talks have been positive and “forward-looking”:
Leonard is entering the final year of his contract and will have the option to enter free agency next summer. It’s currently believed he has his sights set on joining the Los Angeles Lakers.
For now, the Raptors will enter the 2018-19 season with an improved roster centred around their new superstar. Should Leonard walk in free agency, the team still retains flexibility for any future plans. Or the team can strike gold — a calculated risk that a team which had likely already reached it’s ceiling with it’s prior core like the Raptors felt comfortable enough to make.
Let the recruiting process begin for Masai Ujiri & Co.