In the recent offseason, the Toronto Raptors decided to include DeMar DeRozan in a trade package to acquire Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs. The Raptors earned plenty of criticisms for the blockbuster trade, especially from those people who believed that they traded their most loyal player for a possible one-year rental. However, since the controversial deal with the Spurs, Raptors President Masai Ujiri expressed strong confidence that they can convince Leonard to sign a long-term contract like what the Oklahoma City Thunder did to Paul George in the 2018 NBA free agency.
Their decision to trade DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard made the Raptors one of the top favorite NBA teams to fully dominate the LeBron James-less Eastern Conference in the 2018-19 NBA season. As of now, the Raptors are sitting in the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 27-11 record. However, to strengthen their chance of re-signing Leonard next summer, Marc Stein of the New York Times believes that the Raptors need to win an NBA championship title.
If they fell short of their goal, Kawhi Leonard may consider leaving the Raptors for the Los Angeles Clippers. Stein predicted that if Leonard exits, the Raptors will trade Kyle Lowry and undergo a full-scale rebuild.
“The Raptors, however, know that they almost certainly have to win it all to convince Leonard to spurn a return to his native Southern California. It turns out that merely winning the LeBron-less East will be tougher than the Raptors ever imagined because of Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston and pesky Indiana. The Clippers’ hopes of signing Kawhi away from the Raptors, as a result, feel rather real as the calendar flips. One likewise presumes that a full Toronto teardown, headlined by a Kyle Lowry trade, would soon follow if Kawhi exits.”
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) December 30, 2018
When he demanded a trade from the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard already informed all the interested teams that he will be signing with one of the Los Angeles teams when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. As of now, multiple signs are pointing out that Leonard is more interested in joining the Clippers than teaming up with LeBron James. If they succeed to sign Leonard, the Clippers will still have enough salary cap space to chase another big name in the free agency market.
Undergoing a full-scale rebuild is undeniably a tough decision for the Raptors, but it is something they should seriously consider if they lose Kawhi Leonard in free agency. Kyle Lowry is still performing at an elite level, but no one can deny the fact that he’s already on the downside of his NBA career. With Lowry as their only superstar, the Raptors have a minimal chance of fully dominating the Eastern Conference against younger contenders like the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and the Philadelphia 76ers.