The Raptors were able to pull off the biggest trade in team history over the summer, acquiring Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs.
Leonard will, no doubt, be the biggest star to ever play for a professional sports team in Toronto, and fans are already excited for the team’s 2018-19 campaign, especially given that the Raptors were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season.
The biggest challenge for the team going forward will be retaining Leonard, who has the option to opt out of his current deal next summer. Leonard has already expressed interest playing in Los Angeles, and rumors have already been circulating about him being a one-year rental for the Raptors, then leaving for the Lakers or Clippers.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri, however, plans to do whatever he can to keep Leonard in Toronto. Clearly, the team wouldn’t have made the trade if it believed he would leave after just one year. Ujiri plans to make a strong pitch to Leonard about staying with the team long-term, and he recently revealed what he plans to say, in an appearance on The Woj Pod.
“You want to be genuine, you want to be real,” Ujiri told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “You know, this is who we are. We might not be the best ones in weather, but we might be the best ones in many other places: the diversity, the city, the uniqueness of a place like [Toronto], fans, the atmosphere. I think those things are so unique, it’s beginning to show everywhere.
And then you have to put the basketball together. Maybe before the basketball wasn’t a part of it, but I know there’s a part of him that I’m sure thinks this team has a chance. With his teammates and seeing how hard these guys are working. We have to show who we are. There is no fake sales job here. This is what it is.”
There’ll be a lot of pressure on the Raptors to play at a high level and get deep in the playoffs this season, so the team can prove to Leonard that it can get out of the second round — an issue that’s plagued it over the years. It’ll be a tall order to retain Leonard, who does appear to have his sights set on playing in Los Angeles, where he was born and raised, but Toronto does have a strong appeal as well.