Will Kawhi Leonard be back for another season? An investigation
The Raptors may have locked up this season’s championship, but the future of the team is still hanging in the balance. Kawhi Leonard, the superhuman MVP who made all this possible, becomes a free agent at the end of the month, meaning he doesn’t necessarily have to return to Toronto next year. On the one hand, he’s from Los Angeles and owns a pretty expensive home there, which has some insiders assuming he’ll sign with the L.A. Clippers. On the other hand, the Raps have given Kawhi plenty of incentive to stay. So what’s going to happen? Here’s what we know.
Exhibit A: His sister’s Insta
Last month, when the Raps beat the Bucks to enter the finals, Kawhi’s sister Miesha Slayton posted a celebratory video on her Instagram stories. Of course, superfans went through the clip second by second and zeroed in on a voice in the background shouting, “They know darn well he ain’t gonna be there next year.” No one knew whose voice it was, but somehow a rumour spread that it was Kawhi’s uncle, who clearly had some kind of inside track on his nephew’s exit strategy. Except that it turns out the whole thing was a case of Internet speculation run amok. At least that’s what Slayton (who removed the video) has said. She maintains that the mysterious voice was not an uncle or a family member, but just “someone HATIN in the background.” Huh.
Exhibit B: Lunching with LeBron
After a less-than-stellar freshman season as an L.A. Laker, former King of the League (and Raptors kryptonite) LeBron James has apparently started up his own scouting program for the 2019-2020 season. According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, James made a trip to Philly when the Raps were playing the 76ers, for the express purpose of “recruiting” Kawhi.
Exhibit C: Real estate (the real story)
Nothing says “I’m not going anywhere” quite like buying a home in one’s adopted hometown. Hence the wave of excitement when reports emerged last week that Leonard (who owns a mega mansion in L.A.) had recently purchased a home in Toronto. On Saturday he denied the claims during a press conference, but the way he denied them is leaving more than a little hope for Raptors fans to hang on to: “No, it didn’t. It didn’t happen yet, no.” Yet???? Yet!!!
Exhibit D: The Hudson’s Bay card
Signing up for a loyalty card at our national retailer is the modern-day equivalent of donning a beaver pelt (or something like that). Which explains why Twitter went crazy when a fan (allegedly) spotted Kawhi doing just that at the Bay last month. Do sports stars really sign up for rewards cards? Do they even do their own shopping during the playoffs? Then again, Kawhi’s a humble guy, and who’s to say he didn’t suddenly find himself in need of a crock pot or some new towels?
Exhibit E: The loyalty
When Kawhi first came to the Raptors last year he was dealing with a serious quad injury as well as a fractured relationship with his former team. His Uncle Dennis (the same uncle who was not shouting in the background of the Insta video) explained that it was lack of trust and not injury that caused The Klaw to relocate. With the Raptors management he has found the care and respect he was looking for. He recently told reporters that he wouldn’t be where he is right now without the Raptors’ load management plan, which emphasized his full and long-term recovery over winning in the regular season.
Exhibit F: The hero status
Discussing Leonard’s uncertain future on The Jump, former NBA great Tracy McGrady speculated our boy will stay in the Six. Here’s why: “The love that is being poured into this team, into Kawhi. Look at these viewing parties all over this country—are you kidding me? Toronto hasn’t celebrated a championship in this city in 25, 26 years and Kawhi is delivering that. You own this town, this country.” In other words, you don’t leave a city that has made you king (and promised to give you free food for life). Plus, the stats are on our side: stars don’t generally leave after huge, career-making victories.
Exhibit G: The Canadian tax man
The American players on the Raptors (a.k.a. all of them) pay higher taxes than players for almost any other team in the league. According to Forbes, Leonard’s tax bill will increase by over $2 million this year. But he got a bonus of more than $3 million for signing with the Raps.
Exhibit F: This incredibly cute puppy named Kawhi
Attn Kawhi: If you are watching this video and still thinking about leaving…just go.
Let’s put furry Kawhi aside and consider the key clues here. The fact that Leonard has been vocal about how much he respects the Raptors’ brass is key after his experience in Texas. And who doesn’t want to stay in a city that has turned them into a god? Even the Klaw himself isn’t immune to Raptors fever, so while we can’t say for certain, a lot of signs point to this being a slam dunk for Toronto.
This post originally said that LeBron James "is in talks" with the Phildelphia 76ers. In fact, the last reports of talks between James and Philly date from 2018.