There’s a whole bunch of speculation suddenly popping up about Tim Leiweke’s plans to remain with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment [MLSE]. He’s currently the conglomerate’s extremely visible President, and the man who treats the improvement of the Toronto Raptors as a personal crusade. (He’s highly active with MLSE’s other teams, like the Maple Leafs and the soccer club, but those squads are not our concern here in Rapture Nation.)
Leiweke has issued an official denial of the Imminent Departure reports, but admits he’s “not here forever”. Should we as Raps fans really care all that much about whether the top suit moves on? That’s not an easy question to answer. Leiweke is an experienced and successful basketball executive. (Did Leiweke’s predecessor, the colourless Richard Peddie, have the vision to understand how Drake would increase the Raps’ profile with younger fans, or the charisma to bring the rapper on board as Global Ambassador? I’m thinking not.) He was smart enough to zero in on Masai Ujiri as the man to replace the out-of-gas Bryan Colangelo in the Raps’ GM chair, and determined enough to snag him. There’s no reason to panic should Leiweke decide his tough-love approach is needed elsewhere (New York, perhaps?); Ujiri is not likely to follow – at least not immediately.
The bigger problem might crop up the day after Leiweke is gone. Who will MLSE find to replace him? And what priority will the Raptors have in the New World Order created when Tim’s successor is in place? The Raps have had to bite and scratch their way to relevance in Toronto’s crowded sports scene, and lost much ground in the lean years following Vince’s departure. We’ve all heard way too many “Craptor” jokes. I worry that Masai might get told to get lost if he goes to the Board with a request to crash through the salary cap by signing a big-name free agent. Leiweke is on record as having told the Board to expect just such a request in the not-too-distant future. What if he’s not around to help Masai deliver the message? Instead it’s some hockey guy, without Tim’s passion for hoops. Getting rebuffed might in fact trigger Masai’s resignation. He’d have every justification to follow his old boss at that point.
OK, get a grip Brian. The sky isn’t falling yet. I think it’s unlikely Leiweke just up and leaves without lifting at least one championship banner in the Air Canada Centre. But whispers about instability at the top of MLSE aren’t positive for our favourite basketball team. Let’s hope Tim sticks around for at least 2 more years, and maps out an orderly succession plan.