Raptors Could Reach Finals, Keep Kawhi

Kawhi Leonard may not be a one-year rental, Leo Rautins said, especially if the Raptors win big

Taz and the Moose
July 19, 2018 - 11:07 am

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DeMar DeRozan spent nine years in Toronto, where he was a four-time All-Star, one of the top scorers in the NBA, and, in 2018, a second-team All-NBA performer.

But the Raptors had to trade him.

“Toronto had to make a move,” Raptors TV analyst Leo Rautins said on Taz & The Moose. “I think at this point in time, they just felt they couldn’t get done what they needed to get done with DeMar DeRozan and an opportunity came by to get a top-five player. You got to go for it. This is a game-changing move for the Toronto Raptors as far as their future and trying to make an impact in the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. They had to take it.”

That “top-five player,” of course, is Kawhi Leonard, a former Finals MVP. Unfortunately for the Raptors, he could be a one-year rental.

“Everybody said that about Paul George, too,” Rautins said. “If you look at the last couple years, it’s L.A., it’s L.A., it’s L.A. No disrespect to Oklahoma City, but you can’t even compare a world-class city like Toronto to Oklahoma City. Players that come here love this city. It has a lot to offer.”

Including good basketball. The Raptors went 59-23 last season, finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference. The best part? They won’t have to face LeBron James in the playoffs.

“Ultimately, I think it comes down to one thing,” Rautins said, referring to Toronto’s ability to sign Leonard long-term. “Say Kawhi Leonard comes, he’s healthy and he’s the Kawhi Leonard that we all know – I think he’s a top-three player in this league when he’s healthy – and he takes Toronto not only to the Eastern Conference Finals but the NBA Finals, then why wouldn’t he consider staying here? I think that’s the best thing the Toronto Raptors can do. If they can win, these fans are going to embrace them. These fans, anybody that watches Raptor games on TV realizes how crazy the fans are here. This is what Kyle Lowry found out when he got here.”

While there are a lot of great fan bases in the NBA, the Raptors are unique.

“Not only do you have a city behind you, but you got a whole country behind you,” Rautins said. “It’s the most unique situation in the NBA where you actually have an entire country (behind you). You're Canada’s team. I think it’s a great opportunity for them.”

Even if Leonard walks in free agency, not all is lost for Toronto.

“Here’s the worst-case scenario,” Rautins said. “If he does get up and go after a year, DeMar is off the books, Leonard’s off the books, and the Raptors have a lot of money going into what everybody's expecting to be a big free-agency period a year from now.”