Toronto Raptors remain the best landing spot for Kawhi Leonard

TORONTO, ON - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors found success this season thanks to Kawhi Leonard. Soon to be a free agent, his best decision would be to return to the city.

After the greatest playoff run in Toronto Raptors history and the entire nation of Canada getting swept up in the excitement, it’s time to get back to the business of basketball. The franchise and their fans may be celebrating the franchise’s first ever title, but for Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster, they need to get back to work.

The Raptors focus now shifts to the 2019-20 season. Their primary objective is to secure the rights to the best player to ever wear their uniform. They need to re-sign Kawhi Leonard. Whether the superstar is aware yet or not, Toronto is the best place for him.

The city of Toronto has embraced Leonard in a way that they never have another athlete. Others have been cheered and supported to receive recognition, but only Leonard has had the residents offer gifts for staying put.

Restauranteurs in the city began a campaign called Ka’Wine and Dine. The premise is that if Leonard returns to the Raptors, he could visit any participating restaurant and eat for free, for life. It’s a perk that the small forward would not need, but might enjoy after he signs a five-year, $190 million contract to stay in Toronto.

That is the maximum he can receive and only the Raptors can make that offer. That buys a lot of dinners. The most any other team is allowed to give is four-years for $141 million.

A Torontonian, Simon Mass, the CEO of The Condo Store Realty Inc. has even tried to sweeten the pot by offering Leonard a free multi-million-dollar penthouse in the downtown core. If the baller returns to the Raptors, he will be given his choice of condos at the Four Seasons, St. Regis or Carlton Residences.

It’s a gesture that will hopefully sway Leonard who already owns a home. He recently bought a $13.3 million mansion in San Diego, California and was even was reported to have purchased a home in Toronto.

Leonard will have a big decision to make after he was heavily courted by the Los Angeles Clippers. They are the favorite to land the prized free agent. OddsShark is offering odds of +120 that he becomes a Clipper and +125 that he stays with the Raps. The Clippers have been aggressive in demonstrating their interest. They sent team employees to roughly 75-per-cent of Raptors games this season. Their head coach, Doc Rivers, was even fined $50,000 after Game 1 of the NBA Finals for tampering. During a pregame segment on ESPN, Rivers said that Leonard was “the most like [Michael] Jordan that we’ve seen.”

The team with the third greatest odds to land the Klaw happens to also be based in Los Angeles, the Lakers. They are heavily connected to Leonard because of their location. Playing for either of the L.A. teams would actually be disruptive to the All-Star. With LeBron James already in town, it would create constant media comparisons between the two and place him second in line for advertising deals behind the King.

In Canda, Leonard has already cemented himself as the top athlete in the country. That says a lot for a hockey-hungry nation. He was able to see that for himself as support grew throughout the playoffs. Because the NHL has seven Canadian cities representing teams, it isn’t as easy to rally behind one player. Leonard was even given the nickname of “King of the North” that was adopted and promoted by New Balance, for whom he’s an ambassador.

Despite the interest out of Los Angeles, Toronto remains the best spot for Leonard to play his future basketball. One of his main reasons for dissatisfaction with the San Antonio Spurs was that the team wanted him to play despite advising them that he was still injured. The Raptors, who have one of the best medical staffs in the league, were very cautious with the star.

Leonard did not play in a single back-to-back game all season and missed others due on “load management”. The team demonstrated that they were committed to their player’s health far more than the Spurs had.

That comfort and recognition that his presence on the team meant more to the organization than just business should be a consideration in his decision. He is familiar and comfortable with the medical team and they know the treatments that have and haven’t worked for him. Moving to a new franchise would mean starting from scratch in building relationships and for team doctors to familiarize themselves with his history.

Leonard’s established relationships also extend to his brothers in sport, the men who laid their bodies and sweat on the line every night in their quest for the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Leonard has built friendships throughout the season. With the Raptors roster likely to have few changes next year, Leonard is able to reconnect with the players to whom he grew close. That appears to be Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.

Leonard’s closest friend in Toronto, Jeremy Castleberry, was wisely hired this past offseason by the Raptors after they pulled the trigger on the trade with the Spurs. With Leonard in their organization, they hired his former high school and college teammate to become a player-development coach. Castleberry had previously been working with the Spurs as their assistant video director. Having this built-in social network in Toronto can help maintain Leonard’s comfort with the team.

Finally, Leonard’s best served to remain in Toronto for basketball purposes. He now knows he can win in the city and with the core that surrounds him on the court. Pascal Siakam had a breakout season and is poised to continue in his growth. That creates the potential for the team to be even better than they were this year, a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Next. Kyle Lowry flipped his playoff script. dark

The decision now rests in Leonard’s hands. The Raptors have shown him how committed they are to both he and winning. They will surely provide one last pitch and hopefully have the King of the North return to where he belongs, on the court wearing a Raptors jersey.