Kawhi Leonard shook up the NBA with his decision to sign with the Clippers in free agency just a few weeks after leading the Raptors to its first NBA title in franchise history.
While the Raptors remained confident that Leonard would re-sign with Toronto and continue to build a legacy, the star ultimately chose to return to his hometown of Los Angeles and pair up with Paul George.
Leonard’s decision made a huge impact on the league as a whole — but how will it affect the Raptors, the city of Toronto and the East?
No outrage for Toronto, just disappointment
After waiting until late Friday night (or the wee hours of Saturday morning for the East Coast), Leonard finally made his free agency decision while the city of Toronto anxiously awaited what was next for the star. Much to the city’s disappointment, Leonard decided to move on after just one season with the Raptors.
Some may question whether this taints his legacy in a city where he made such a significant impact in such a short time as he became an icon throughout the country of Canada, but the overall consensus and initial reaction from Toronto is that it won’t. Yes, the Raptors would have loved to have Leonard back. But no, there won’t be outrage.
The Raptors took Leonard in after a drama-filled season with the Spurs amid questions surrounding his health. Toronto did what it could to manage and maintain his health. And as TSN notes: “They did everything they were supposed to do and more. They did everything right but it still wasn’t enough.”
It’ll be a hard goodbye, but there shouldn’t be hard feelings.
Raptors likely will stay the course and develop
The Raptors had a couple options entering free agency: To stay the course with their young talent or to make drastic changes in preparation of losing Leonard. So what are they going to do without the NBA Finals MVP?
They’re likely going to stay the course and keep building around their young core. Toronto might try to add two or three mid-level type players to fill the void because there are no clear stars left.
The Raptors have done a good job drafting in recent years so it makes sense to keep investing in the talent they already have. A player like Pascal Siakam could have to step up and be a consistent playmaker, and let’s not forget about OG Anunoby, who was sidelined for much of the playoffs.
Obviously, there’s no way to replace a top-10 player like Leonard, but if Siakam and Anunoby step up, the Raptors will stay in the mix.
The East is wide open again
The story last summer was about how wide open the East would be without LeBron James, who left the Cavaliers to sign with the Lakers in free agency. It’s the same story this year.
The Raptors surprised everyone by knocking out the defending champion Warriors in the NBA Finals. If Leonard did stay in Toronto, the Raptors would likely be among the favorites to win the championship.
Now, it’s anyone’s title to win as the West continues to build.