Tag Archives: Leonard

Leonard leads Clippers to rout of Raptors after ring presentation

On a night Kawhi Leonard brought fans to the arena early, the former Raptors superstar sent them to the exits early.

Leonard scored 23 points Wednesday to lift the Los Angeles Clippers to a 112-92 rout of his former team, an atrocious game that was decided long before the final buzzer sounded.

Pascal Siakam had 24 points to top the Raptors, who were misfiring all night. They shot a season’s worst 8-for-36 from the three-point line, and matched their season low with 31 field goals. Kyle Lowry missed seven of Toronto’s threes by himself on a dreadful 1-for-8 shooting night.

“I’ve had two good games (since his return) and the rest have been (expletive), to be honest,” said Lowry, who was playing his fifth game since missing 11 with a fractured thumb. “Right now I’m nowhere near where I want to and need to be.”

Pascal Siakam had 24 points, while Norman Powell finished with 22 points for the Raptors (16-8), in their fourth loss in five games. It was Toronto’s third consecutive loss at home after going a franchise-record 9-0 to start the season.

OG Anunoby had 13 points and seven rebounds, Marc Gasol added 11 rebounds to go with nine points and Terence Davis chipped in with 10 points for Toronto, which was missing Fred VanVleet for the second consecutive game (right knee contusion).

Leonard, who earned Finals MVP to cap the Raptors’ historic playoff run, shot 8-for-14 on the night, and added six assists and five rebounds for the Clippers (19-7), who won for the ninth time in 11 outings.

The game had been circled on Raptors’ fans calendars since the season schedule was released. And the early minutes definitely lived up to the hype. The Scotiabank Arena crowd of 20,144 gave Leonard a rousing hero’s welcome, chanting “M-V-P!” as he received his NBA championship ring.

WATCH | Game Wrap: Kawhi Leonard the catalyst in Clippers road victory

Raptors’ fans celebrated Kawhi Leonard before he led the LA Clippers to a 112-92 win in Toronto. 1:45

“I sat in the locker-room with it for a little bit (after the game),” Leonard said. “Just admired it and just remembered all the memories and all the hard work that went into it.”

By halftime, fans had to be wishing Leonard was still on their team.

“We kept telling our guys the way we’re playing offensively, we’re going to keep scoring,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But if they keep scoring, it’s going to be a close game. At some point, one of the two teams is going to play defence and it was us in the second quarter.”

Toronto had an early six-point lead, but the game turned on a horrible second quarter. Lou Williams poured in 13 points in the frame. The Raptors had 14 points as a team, and missed all nine shots from long range.

“It looked liked it was going to be a helluva ball game and we went through a really dry spell offensively that deflated us,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

The Raptors turned it around to start the third, holding the Clippers to just 1-for-11 shooting, and when Anunoby swatted the ball away from Leonard and raced downcourt for a dunk, it pulled Toronto to within five points with about five minutes left in the frame.

The Raptors’ momentum died a swift death soon after. Toronto didn’t score a basket over the final 3:43 of the period and trailed 88-71 with one quarter left to play.

Toronto would come no closer than 14 points from that point on, and both coaches emptied their benches in the final dreadful minutes, sending fans to the exits well before the final buzzer.

These two teams had met exactly one month earlier in L.A., but neither team was at full strength. The Raptors were missing both Lowry (fractured thumb) and Serge Ibaka (ankle strain) that night, while Anunoby left the game in the first two minutes after Leonard swatted him in the eye.

The Clippers were missing Paul George, who was recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

The Raptors hassled Leonard into one of his worst games of the season — 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting and a career-worst nine turnovers in the Clippers’ 99-88 win.

“I’d think it would be pretty hard to make him go 2-for-11 and nine turnovers, but it would be really cool if we could,” Nurse said before the game.

With the much-anticipated return of Leonard — dubbed the King of the North last season — the night got off to an emotional start. Lowry presented Leonard with his ring at centre-court, and the two hugged.

WATCH | Kyle Lowry presents Kawhi Leonard with championship ring

The former Raptor was honoured before Toronto took on the Clippers on Wednesday. 1:01

“I’m going to be connected with Kawhi for life because of what we achieved last year,” Nurse said. “And all of us that were in that locker-room are.”

“When the ball goes up, the reality is we gotta get to playing and do everything we can to try to beat a great basketball team. This is as deep a talented team as there is in the league.”

The Clippers’ depth was on full display with seven players scoring in double figures. Williams finished with 18 points, while Maurice Harkless had 14 and George 13.

Anunoby led the way with nine points in a solid first quarter featuring some of the best basketball Toronto had played in a few games. The Raptors went into the second leading 32-27.

Toronto’s execution disappeared in a disastrous second quarter. The Raptors led by five early on, but a hook shot by Ivica Zubac capped a 28-10 Clippers lead that put the visitors up by 13 points. Five consecutive points by Williams sent L.A. into the locker-room at halftime with a 64-46 advantage.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.

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CBC | Sports News

Kawhi Leonard won’t be surprised to hear some boos tonight in return to Toronto

Kawhi Leonard drew a crowd in his return to Toronto on Wednesday.

While downtown billboards heralded his return for the first time as a Los Angeles Clipper, the 28-year-old faced a media throng at the morning shootaround.

Leonard’s five-minute scrum attracted 60-plus media members and a dozen cameras. An unfazed Leonard, who led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title in his one season north of the border, said simply he was happy to be back.

Leonard, who will collect his championship ring prior to tipoff against the Raptors on Wednesday night, said he expected a mixed reaction from the fans despite the country’s past love affair with the close-mouthed NBA star.

“There’ll be some cheers but definitely, I think, more boos because they want to win the game,” he said, engulfed by media courtside at Scotiabank Arena. “They’re not going to be cheering for a player that’s on the opposing team. They’re still rooting for the Raptors.”

But Clippers coach Doc Rivers dismissed any thoughts of a negative reception from Raptors fans.

“He’ll get a great one … I don’t know if he promised a championship, but he fulfilled it anyway. I think it will be an amazing reception.”

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment laid out the welcome mat with tributes on giant video screens at Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field.

“Fun guy in town,” read the caption at the outdoor screen at Scotiabank Arena next to a photo of Leonard celebrating the NBA championship.

“Board man gets his ring,” read the caption on the BMO Field screen beside a picture of Leonard holding up the trophy.

The references were to T-shirts Leonard famously wore.

At the downtown intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets, New Balance — a Leonard sponsor — and Leonard thanked the fans of Toronto on a giant billboard.

Leonard said he got “flashbacks” from the Raptors’ victory parade as the Clippers came to the arena Wednesday morning.

“Obviously it was different playing here for a whole country. They’re all going for this one team,” he said. “The ride [with the Raptors] was fun. I had a great time last year with the coaching staff, the front office and the players. It was a great experience.”

Leonard signed as a free agent with the Clippers in early July, less than a month after leading the Raptors to their first NBA title.

He said he took his time making his decision, and thought long and hard about staying in Toronto.

“I gave it big consideration … I talked to the front office in deep detail,” he said. “It was a hard choice to make.”

He returned to his native California after the Clippers swung a deal to get Paul George from Oklahoma City in exchange for Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, plus five first-round draft picks.

“I’m happy to be there. Having a great time,” Leonard said of life in L.A.

Leonard signed a three-year max deal with the Clippers that could be worth nearly $ 110 million US, although the third season is at his option.

Asked what he had done with the championship ring he won with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard offered one of his trademark no-nonsense replies.

Leonard has said part of the reason for leaving the Raptors for the Clippers was the opportunity to play with pal Paul George. (Getty Images)

“I wore it a few times and then kept it in a safe place.”

Leonard came into Wednesday’s game averaging 25.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 18 games with the Clippers.

He averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals over 60 regular-season games with the Raptors in 2018-19, turning it up a notch in the playoffs. Leonard averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 post-season games to earn his second Finals MVP award.

A man of few words, Leonard became part of Toronto sports lore with an Eastern Conference semifinal series-winning shot in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers that bounced on the rim four times before falling in.

Leonard had an uneven game Nov. 11 when the two teams met in Los Angeles. Struggling on 2-for-11 shooting in the face of double coverage, he finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and nine turnovers in a 98-88 Clippers win.

Toronto played without the injured Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka that night.

The Clippers have gone 11-3 and the Raptors 9-4 since that November meeting.

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CBC | Sports News

As Raptors face Kawhi Leonard for 1st time since Finals win, load management is a hot topic again

He play.

At least that’s what should be expected of Kawhi Leonard when the Los Angeles Clippers host the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center on Monday night. 

The load management strategy is still very much in effect, but Leonard will have had three full days of rest ahead of the first meeting between the reigning NBA champions and the Finals MVP who led the team there.

While load management is now a household term for NBA enthusiasts, it was just last season that sports-science guru Alex McKechnie unleashed it in Toronto.

Now promoted to vice-president of player health and performance with the Raptors, McKechnie devised a plan to keep Leonard fresh and allow him to be in peak form for the playoffs after appearing in all but nine games the previous season due to injury.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard thanks Raptors fans after leaving as free agent:

Kawhi Leonard has nice words for his former team and the city of Toronto during his introductory press conference with the L.A. Clippers. 2:09

Apparently this plan followed Leonard in free agency to his hometown Clippers. 

Just last week, the Clippers held Leonard out of a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. Predictably, this didn’t sit well with fans and media who were hoping to see Leonard go toe-to-toe with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The widespread disdain for the Clippers’ decision to sit Leonard against Milwaukee also took into account that Leonard would instead play the next night in a less-hyped tilt with the Portland Trail Blazers.

ESPN analyst Doris Burke did not mince words when she was asked to weigh in on the load management phenomenon. 

“It is mind-boggling to me that Kawhi doesn’t want to play against the reigning MVP and he’d rather play against Portland on TNT,” Burke said.

Burke acknowledged the thinking behind the strategy, but also sees this as a bad look for the league. 

“The Clippers obviously have a responsibility to Kawhi and to winning and to long term,” Burke said. “But the league also I believe is and should be concerned that their best players are not playing on nights when they are on national television.”

California love

Leonard, 28, is very much the player Raptors fans remember from the championship run when he appeared in 60 of 82 regular-season games.

Through seven games this season, Leonard is averaging a career-high 29 points per game, while logging fewer minutes this season, down from 34 in 2018-19 to 30.9 per game.

Andrew Greif, a Clippers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, has been impressed by the all-star forward so far. 

“He’s been as advertised,” Greif told CBC Sports. “A strong defender and an at-times unstoppable scorer. We knew all that, before, of course, with his performance in last season’s playoffs the most forceful example yet of his ability to influence the game on both ends. But his ability to get to his ‘spots’ offensively is something I didn’t appreciate until I began watching him live, night-in and night-out.”

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard takes flight in debut with Clippers:

Leonard scored a game-high 30 points in the Clippers 112-102 win over the Lakers. 0:13

However, Leonard is carrying a considerable amount of the load despite the decrease in minutes as his usage percentage (plays that result in a field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or turnover) has sky-rocketed to 39.5 per cent (league-average usage is 20 per cent), trailing only James Harden in that category. 

The Clippers, who have dropped a pair of games without Leonard, don’t appear to be hitting the panic button, especially with fellow all-star Paul George expected to make his debut in the coming weeks. 

The Clippers abide, mostly

There is also no sign of the Clippers caving to the cries of fans and media to ditch load management. 

At this point, there is really no reason to as the league has approved the process as was made evident prior to the Clippers’ 129-124 loss to Milwaukee.

“Kawhi Leonard is not a healthy player under the league’s resting policy,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement on Nov 6. “And, as such, is listed as managing a knee injury in the Clippers injury report. The league office, in consultation with the NBA’s director of sports medicine is comfortable with the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”

In a strange twist, the Clippers were fined $ 50,000 US the following day because coach Doc Rivers said Leonard was “healthy” after the NBA had confirmed Leonard’s load management for injury was consistent with league rules. 

For now, the Clippers will continue to keep us guessing regarding Leonard’s availability for back-to-backs. 

“I understand the frustration from fans, especially those who’ve paid for tickets and might not be able to watch another Clippers game live this season,” Greif said. “But to paraphrase Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ counter-argument from [earlier this season]: Clippers fans might be upset in the short-term, but long-term, they will cheer if the strategy pays off with a championship.”

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Van Vleet and Raptors hungry to repeat as champs, even without Leonard

Fred VanVleet never has put much stock in the opinions of media pundits. Not when his Raptors were struggling against the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the NBA playoffs, not when Toronto won the title, and not when superstar Kawhi Leonard left the team for the Los Angeles Clippers.

The point guard definitely isn’t going to start listening to basketball commentators now as they dismiss the Raptors’ chances of repeating as NBA champions.

“Typical. Typical media stuff. We’ve dealt with it before,” said VanVleet on Wednesday. “I don’t think any of us felt like we were darlings of the world just because we won a championship.

“Everybody’s seen both sides of it. You win a championship, everybody praises you and pats you on the back and then Kawhi leaves and it’s right back to ground zero where we were before so we’ll just stay even-keeled, stay hungry, and get back to work.”

VanVleet attended the Raptors Basketball Academy on Wednesday, a week-long camp the NBA franchise hosts for hundreds of children every summer to help develop basketball skills. VanVleet played against the kids for an hour with former Raptors centre Matt Bonner before speaking to reporters for the first time since Toronto beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 13 for the team’s first-ever title.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard thanks Toronto after signing with Clippers:

Kawhi Leonard has nice words for his former team and the city of Toronto during his introductory press conference with the L.A. Clippers. 2:09

Still sporting a scar under his eye from several elbows to the face during the hard-fought series against the Warriors, VanVleet said the Raptors were ready to start the new season. His teeth — which had been severely damaged after a foul from Golden State guard Shaun Livingston — have since been repaired.

“We’re hungry. We’re hungry again,” VanVleet said on the basketball court at Humber College’s north campus. “Obviously, it was a great run, we had a good time. We won a ring. But your career doesn’t stop because you win a championship. We’re all hungry and thirsty to get back to the finals.”

Although Leonard broke the hearts of many fans when it was announced on July 10 that he was leaving for his hometown Clippers after only one season in Toronto, VanVleet said there were no hard feelings among his Raptors teammates.

“You respect the guy and what he wants to do,” said VanVleet. “Would we have liked for him to come back? Of course, he’s one of the best players in the game but we don’t think about it like that.

Fred VanVleet (23) shoots in front of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 13. (Tony Avelar/Associated Press)

“Fans and people from the outside put a lot of stock into the players as these superhumans — he’s an unbelievable basketball player, don’t get me wrong — for us, in the locker room, we’re all equals. We respect him as a brother, as a friend, he moves on and we’ve got to do the same.”

Bonner, who played for the Raptors from 2004-2006 and then won NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 and 2014, sees himself as proof that a championship can inspire kids to start playing a sport.

“I grew up about an hour north of Boston and I remember in 1986 when they won the championship, that’s one of my earliest basketball memories,” said Bonner. “My dad went to the championship parade, it was on TV, and he brought me a hat back.

“I remember being like ‘I want to make it to the NBA, I want to be in a championship parade.’ It really got me interested in the game. You’re going to see a similar effect here in Toronto.”

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NBA champion Kawhi Leonard thanks Raptors, city of Toronto

Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title in June, opened Wednesday’s introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers by thanking his former team, the city of Toronto and fans across Canada.

Leonard, who was named Finals MVP, was arguably the most coveted prize in this year’s free-agent class, and met with several teams including the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Speculation rose to a fever pitch that Leonard would re-sign with the Raptors after he flew to Toronto to speak with the team and president Masai Ujiri.

WATCH | Kawhi Leonard thanks Toronto for ‘amazing season and best parade ever’:

Kawhi Leonard has nice words for his former team and the city of Toronto during his introductory press conference with the L.A. Clippers. 2:09

But in the end, Leonard chose to return home and sign with the Clippers. He helped orchestrate the blockbuster trade that saw the Clippers obtain Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari and five first-round draft picks.

Leonard reportedly signed a three-year, $ 103-million US deal with the Clippers with a player option for the 2020-21 season.

Former Raptors’ star forward Kawhi Leonard and fellow Clippers newcomer Paul George show off their new jerseys at Wednesday’s introductory news conference in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Kawhi Leonard officially signs with Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers signed free agent forward Kawhi Leonard, this year’s NBA FInals MVP with the Toronto Raptors, to a reported three-year, $ 103-million US maximum contract, and officially completed a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George.

The Clippers completed their blockbuster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, acquiring George for guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari and five first-round draft picks.

The Clippers surrendered their first-rounders in 2022, 2024 and 2026, plus sent ones for 2021 and 2023 that were obtained through Miami, to Oklahoma City.

Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, announced the moves Wednesday, but did not disclose terms of the deal, which have been reported by multiple outlets.

“This is a historic moment for our organization and our fans,” said Frank. “We are grateful and honoured that Kawhi Leonard has decided to come home and join the L.A. Clippers. Kawhi is a peerless two-way player, a relentless worker and a natural fit for the serious, professional culture our group has established. He wins everywhere he goes, and he always has, from King High School to San Diego State to the NBA. Having him on our side is a tremendous privilege and a massive responsibility, one we will take very seriously. His expectation, and ours, is to contend for championships.”

The person spoke to the Associated Press about Leonard’s deal on condition of anonymity because the Clippers did not release its final terms. The Athletic first reported the three-year term and option provision in Leonard’s deal.

That would allow Leonard, a 28-year-old Southern California native, to opt out and become a free agent again in 2021.

It was originally reported that Leonard would receive a four-year, $ 142-million maximum contract.

Leonard and the Clippers had talked about a full four-year max as well, but eventually agreed on the shorter deal which preserves the future contract flexibility for the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

“Having him on our side is a tremendous privilege and a massive responsibility, one we will take very seriously,” Frank said. “His expectation, and ours, is to contend for championships.”

Leonard led San Antonio to the NBA title in 2014 and Toronto to its first title last month.

WATCH | Raptors take down Warriors in Game 6 to win NBA title:

The Toronto Raptors won their first NBA title in franchise history with a 114-110 win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals over the Golden State Warriors. 2:56

George, traded by the Clippers to pair with Leonard, also has two years guaranteed and a player option remaining on his deal.

“Paul George is one of the greatest two-way players in our game,” said Frank. “He is both an elite scorer and a relentless defender whose versatility elevates any team. When you have the opportunity to acquire a contributor of his caliber, you do what it takes to bring him home. Paul is a native of the Los Angeles area and an ideal fit for the Clippers, thanks to his selflessness and drive. Following the lead of [owner] Steve Ballmer, we have plotted an aggressive course to build a championship contender, and acquiring Paul is a critical step.”

‘Unreasonable’ demands of Raptors

Leonard, who last month led the Raptors to their first NBA championship after he was acquired in a trade from the San Antonio Spurs last July, reportedly selected the Clippers over the Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers. According to TSN of Canada, Leonard made “unreasonable” demands of the Raptors during contract talks.

Leonard averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds over 60 regular-season games with the Raptors in 2018-19. Over 24 playoff games, he averaged 30.5 points with 9.1 rebounds.

In the NBA Finals, Leonard scored 28.5 points per game with 9.8 rebounds as Toronto defeated the Golden State Warriors in six games, dethroning the defending champs.

The three-time all-star, who was drafted 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers in 2011, has averaged 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds over 467 games (440 starts) with the Spurs and the Raptors.

Along with Leonard and George, the 2021 free-agent class could potentially include the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, and LeBron James, who has a player option for 2021 on the four-year deal he signed with the Lakers last off-season.

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With Kawhi Leonard headed to Los Angeles, what should the Raptors do now?

He (didn’t) stay.

Star forward Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers for the maximum four years, $ 142 million US, the franchise confirmed on Saturday.

The Raptors did all they could to keep their Finals MVP. At his introductory press conference in Toronto, Leonard stated two priorities: To be healthy, and to win. The Raptors gave him both, carefully managing his load through the regular season before giving him the spotlight in the playoffs.

Now, the Raptors are tasked with replacing him. Except, as we just saw, Leonard is pretty close to irreplaceable.

With Leonard gone, the Raptors remain above the $ 109-million salary cap. That means the Raptors won’t be major players for the remaining free agents. In the NBA, you can only exceed the salary cap to re-sign your own players, barring a couple of complicated exceptions.

The road to improvement is virtually non-existent, unless we see a massive leap from younger players.

There are two paths Toronto could take: Stay the course, or blow it up.

Staying the course is dependent on the continued improvement of their young stars such as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to try to compensate for the glaring hole left by Leonard. That team would be good, but not many would consider them favourites to repeat.

Blowing it up would entail a complete rebuild. Think Toronto Maple Leafs circa 2015. Trade everyone, hand the roster over to the kids and tank for a pick. There are four unrestricted free agents after next season on the team: Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet. If the Raptors choose this route, those players could all be gone.

Neither option is ideal. But which one is preferable?

Stay the course

With news of Leonard’s decision, Danny Green already bid goodbye to Toronto, heading to Leonard’s cross-town rival Lakers on a two-year deal. The Raptors likely weren’t interested in pushing past the salary cap and into the luxury tax just to pay the sharpshooter, anyway.

Ownership just proved it would empty its pockets for a title, but without Leonard, the Raptors aren’t championship contenders. Still, the case to stay the course is twofold — business and spice.

The business reasons are fairly obvious. The Raptors just won the title, and won over tons of new fans along the way. It would be a bad look to turn heel and trade the likes of Lowry and Ibaka for future assets.

And they’re still a likely playoff team even without Leonard. Pascal Siakam won Most Improved Player last season and found himself in the all-star discussion. He’s still growing as a basketball player. Lowry’s been an all-star five consecutive years. In fact, Siakam and Lowry led the Raptors in scoring in the clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Siakam is poised to be the Raptors’ next star, so it would be wise to surround him with a competitive team, not a tanking one.

WATCH | Siakam pours in 26 points as Raptors win NBA title:

The Toronto Raptors won their first NBA title in franchise history with a 114-110 win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals over the Golden State Warriors. 2:56

Their starting lineup could look something like Lowry-Norman Powell-Anunoby-Siakam-Gasol. Mix in VanVleet and Ibaka off the bench and there’s a decent rotation — especially if one of their G-League contingent (Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher, Jordan Loyd) prove to be serviceable.

The Raptors would also have something called the non-taxpayer mid-level exception contract to hand someone (up to four years, beginning around $ 10 million with five per cent annual raises). Former Raptors such as Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph reportedly landed slightly above this salary range, for example.

Anunoby is also an interesting case. Before the season, he was pegged by some as the likeliest Raptors breakout player, even ahead of Siakam. The death of his father and a bevy of injuries threw a wrench into those plans, but the flashes Anunoby showed with shooting and defence in his rookie season shouldn’t be forgotten.

His game and quiet demeanour even reminded some of a young Kawhi Leonard.

Blow it up

Masai Ujiri’s swap of DeMar DeRozan for Leonard signaled the Raptors president of basketball operations was unwilling to float along as mildly competitive.

It wasn’t good enough to win a round or even two. The Finals — and that Larry O.B. — were the goal.

A decision to stay the course now would thrust the Raptors right back into the DeRozan era in terms of competitiveness. And even that competitiveness would only last one year before the foursome of free agents hit the market.

If Lowry, Ibaka, Gasol and VanVleet all stay, the first three would be in the declining stages of their careers. Would it really be prudent to tie up cap space in that aging core and possibly cost yourself a chance to go big-game hunting in free agency in 2021, when reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo could be available?

Blowing it up would likely involve trading at least some of the four free agents to recoup draft picks and young players that could form the core of the next winning Raptors team. Lowry has value, though his nearly $ 35-million US salary greatly limits the number of interested teams. Same goes for Ibaka and Gasol.

Kyle Lowry may follow Kawhi Leonard out the door if the Raptors choose to begin a rebuild. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Another consequence of trading veterans is the acquisition of cap space. Toronto could weaponize that theoretical cap space by taking on other teams’ bad deals with a sweetener of future draft picks, the same way the Carolina Hurricanes acquired Patrick Marleau along with a first-round pick.

That could allow the Raptors to line up their cap sheet for a pursuit of Antentokounmpo in 2021.

However, shedding the salaries of the incumbent free agents would be tough at this point of the off-season, with other teams already having used up most of their available money.

The Raptors, in this scenario, would likely miss the playoffs and enter the draft lottery, where we just saw the team with the eighth-worst record move to first overall and draft a generational talent in Zion Williamson.

A new young core would be well on its way. But first, as another Toronto coach once famously said, there would be pain.

Ujiri made a bold move last summer trading for Leonard. It might be time for another.

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CBC | Sports News

As free-agency dominoes fall, the wait for Kawhi Leonard continues

Today marks the first full day of NBA free agency, with one of the biggest names — finals MVP Kawhi Leonard — yet to announce whether he’ll stay with the Toronto Raptors, or join another team, following their first-ever championship.

And the waiting may last a few more days.

Roughly $ 2.5 billion US in contract commitments were made in the first six hours that followed the official beginning of free agency at 6:01 p.m. ET Sunday — and there are still many unanswered questions. Leonard is the biggest domino yet to fall.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse says the team will be meeting with Leonard:  “We’ve got a visit with Kawhi here in the next day or so.”

It’s believed the Raptors will get the last meeting, with Leonard also likely to talk with the Clippers and Lakers, both out of Los Angeles — possibly among other teams — before making up his mind.

Last man standing

Most of the other biggest-name free agents appear to have picked their new homes — or will be staying in their current ones. The biggest contract left, more than likely, is the $ 190-million, five-year pact Klay Thompson is believed to be getting from the Golden State Warriors, although neither side indicated the agreement was finalized Sunday night.

Even with Thompson staying, the five-time reigning Western Conference champion Warriors will be very different next season. They have lost Kevin Durant to Brooklyn, then reportedly traded Andre Iguodala to Memphis late Sunday night. Durant was the finals MVP when Golden State won its 2017 and 2018 titles. Iguodala was finals MVP when the Warriors were champs in 2015.

No deals can become final until Saturday, when the NBA’s annual moratorium ends. For some teams, the extra time to work through details seems necessary.

“Where da cheesesteaks?” asked Miami’s Josh Richardson, after the Heat agreed to send him to Philadelphia in what was shaping up as a complex three-team deal that also included Dallas — and is to bring Jimmy Butler to Miami.

Total contracts could total over $ 4B

The Heat and Mavericks discussed multiple permutations of a deal, and hours after thinking something was done were still unable to actually close on something. It doesn’t mean the Butler deal is dead, especially because of all the moves that were made in reaction to his joining Miami. But the Heat clearly still have some more work to do in order to make everything work.

The 76ers, with the belief they’ll be signing-and-trading Butler, moved quickly to add Al Horford on a four-year deal that could be worth as much as $ 109 million. His was one of at least 11 deals worth at least $ 100 million agreed to on Sunday, one of the wildest spending days in league history.

“From the trade to the Sixers in February, through the regular season and playoffs and now on to free agency, this contract is a culmination of so much in my life and basketball career,” Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris wrote in an essay published on ESPN.com after he agreed to a five-year, $ 180 million contract. “It’s also a new beginning.”

Plenty of new beginnings are still coming: There are still no fewer than 160 free agents available for the taking, which means the spending by the time this summer is over on new deals should easily top the $ 4 billion mark.

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Kawhi Leonard won’t make decision on Sunday: reports

The Kawhi Leonard watch will continue, as it appears the sought-after free agent won’t be making any decisions about his professional future on Sunday night.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse says Leonard will be meeting with the Raptors in the coming days.

Yahoo Sports Senior NBA insider Chris Haynes is also reporting that the NBA Finals MVP and now two-time champion will not be meeting with NBA teams on Sunday.

Nurse didn’t say where the Raptors will be seeing Leonard, but said the NBA champs believe they “have a really good chance” to keep him.

“I think he had a tremendous year,” Nurse said at an event in Jefferson, Iowa, near his hometown. “I think it’s a great place. You guys can see our fans and ownership is great. Our front office leadership is great, his teammates. You know, everything went well for him to re-sign. And probably mostly, on top of that, would be his health. He was a guy that missed a whole season, and he had a good, healthy year and played his best basketball in the playoffs.”

While Leonard has yet to meet with the Raptors, the Los Angeles Times is reporting the star free agent and his uncle, Dennis Roberston spoke with former Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson on Sunday.

Johnson resigned from his position with the Lakers on April 9, and isn’t allowed to act as an official representative for the team, but the Los Angeles Times also reports that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka officially reached out to Leonard’s camp on Saturday.

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