For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors are 3 wins away from securing an NBA title. The traditional tides of the NBA have once again swung 360 degrees with the Raptors and Warriors facing off in the NBA Finals. I know we’ve grown used to Golden State being phenomenal but I remember when the idea of a finals matchup between these two teams would be literally laughed at. But what makes sports so enthralling, so exciting and so passionate, is the fact that simply anything could happen. In the case of Toronto, we are the clearest example in sports of an underdog city that constantly built their motivation on the notion that they were inferior to everyone else. That’s why making it to these Finals was a fantastic euphoria that was felt by every Toronto native and the various fans abroad that felt that energy through their television.
However, even as we are conquering mountain after mountain and continuing to prove our doubters incorrect, we have done so predominantly on the back of our best player, Kawhi Leonard. The superstar forward has asserted himself as by-far and away as the best basketball player on Earth right now. He has grabbed the playoffs by the scruff of the neck and willed them through this unbelievable season. One that will surely go down in Raptors folklore. But as sweet as this dream has been, there has still been a lingering discomfort throughout this entire season and it seems to intensify with each win. That topic being Kawhi Leonard’s free agency.
There is no secret Kawhi is a “California Kid”. Leonard and his associates have always hinted at the players love for his hometown. He has always missed the sunny shores of Los Angeles and when the relationship with San Antonio went sour, he was eager to go home and only home. Reports came out that damaged the forward’s reputation and added fuel to an otherwise confusing fire. However, when the San Diego State graduate was traded to Toronto, I was confident that he would warm to our culture, organization and fanbase. I knew we always had that impression on people we traded for. Everyone who gets here wants to stay here. Kawhi is unlike all of the others before him. He’s a tough nut to crack. The star forward has a small circle and does not enjoy speaking with the media. He has made massive strides over this year, leading the Raptors and speaking on their behalf every time he is asked to do so.
Leonard has never said anything bad about his stay in Toronto so far and has actually showed many positive signs that he will with the Raptors again; but still I must admit, I would not bet either way. The truth is, nobody really knows what Leonard will decide to do, however what has struck my attention is that as much as we intend to bypass the idea due to our very obvious historical success, Kawhi’s pending decision is still a massive talking point.
The Raptors have managed to achieve history this season with a complete effort led by the heroics of Kawhi which has brought great joy to the Toronto faithful, but it has also added a real sense of attachment and love for the player. A love that would be heartbreaking if he left, either which way. Even the night of game 6, the biggest night in franchise history, all people could talk about was how Leonard’s sister was congratulating fans on instagram live when a voice in the background yelled about how Kawhi was not staying in Toronto.
This type of of stressful energy will persist whether we like it or not throughout the rest of our season. It won’t matter if we win or lose, the first question Leonard will be asked at the post-game presser will be about his pending free-agency. As we expect, he will most likely give a textbook answer that gives us no real information on the subject. On and on we will go until the decision is likely confirmed on July 1st. This type of uncertainty has not affected the team as of yet it seems, but there is no question it is a lingering topic that must be addressed. Should Leonard just come out and give a clear indicator of whether he will stay or leave or at least the terms of his thought-process? Does he owe it to the fanbase of this organization to give an obvious hint?
In fairness, he may not even know yet. That seems a bit far-fetched but it’s a possibility. I believe ultimately Leonard will decide to stay. Contrary to the thousands of hours of sports media I have read and watched on the subject, I believe in Leonard’s character and I believe he will stay. The Clippers are a viable and possible option without doubt, yet I believe the odds are in the Raptors favour. However even I will admit, this growing uncertainty, his personal rise and the fans continued support and attachment has made this all a bit complicated.
We’re in the finals and at this point the decision will be made at the conclusion of the NBA season. However should Kawhi hint his intentions immediately after the game whether we win or lose? I personally believe he owes that to the fanbase and the franchise who not only took a massive chance on him and traded a huge asset and fan favourite but also welcomed him with open arms, made him our king and embraced his greatness. We await the king’s decision as he continues his goal to bring a championship to the North.
By Maiyo Shahrawan