There’s been a lot of speculation about where the Raptors new addition Kawhi Leonard might head to next summer, but none of it is based on anything Leonard has said directly. The former Spur rarely says anything to the media, so after the standard thought that Leonard will sign in L.A. after this season, now the discussion turns to the reasons he might just fall in love with Toronto.
Give Raptors president Masai Ujiri some credit for knowing how to make players want to stay.
DeMar DeRozan was going home to sign with the Lakers a couple of years ago, he didn’t even talk to them and Kyle Lowry was headed home to sign with Philly a year ago, never gave them a chance, but those were the easy ones.
Serge Ibaka re-signed in Toronto after a trade deadline move and one has to believe it was in part because the Raptors let the big man break every convention when dealing with the media. Ibaka is a more media-friendly version of Leonard and he’ll just ignore requests pre-game, post-game and after practice by making the press wait until filing deadlines chase them out of the building. Some of us have waited well over an hour in an empty room postgame just for a chance to talk with Ibaka. It isn’t much of a stretch to believe Leonard would love the same latitude with the media Ibaka’s been enjoying in Toronto.
Then there’s the city itself. DeMarre Carroll made an impression when he first arrived by saying his wife loved it there because she could go shopping downtown with no hassles. We’ll just say professional athletes and their families aren’t “hassled” in “Toronto the good” and by the typically polite Canadian. A reserved Leonard might just appreciate this.
Going to a 59-win team that will be a Conference Finals favorite and at least even-money to make the NBA Finals probably helps, but it’d be nice to hear that from Leonard directly.
In The San Diego Union-Tribune, Mark Zeigler gives his own rationale,
a fan base that is loyal and passionate but will leave you alone in public
a locker room full of versatile, defensive-oriented players who don’t care about scoring averages
a progressive front office that, unlike many franchises, helps players secure local marketing deals
(Danny) Green, one of Leonard’s closest teammates from the Spurs (was traded to Toronto)
Leonard has called meeting Barack Obama during the Spurs’ visit to the White House following their 2014 championship “one of my greatest experiences.” Ujiri is tight with Obama and spent last week with him in Kenya opening a basketball court by Ujiri’s Giants of Africa charity.
Leonard likes listening to rapper Drake. Toronto is Drake’s hometown. He’s courtside for most games.
Sharon Powell… mother of Norman Powell “(Toronto)’s just a fabulous place.” It’s a message she will share with Kim Robertson, Leonard’s mother whom she has befriended through basketball circles.
(worth noting) the team hosted a news conference. With Ujiri, not Leonard.
It’s interesting that Zeigler picked up on the Raptors slick move of letting Leonard skip the traditional press conference after his physical that even average NBA players have to attend post acquisition, but it’s a move that speaks volumes about just how far Ujiri will go to make Leonard feel comfortable in Toronto.
Really there is no rush and nothing to worry about. Leonard can meet the press in Toronto when he’s good and ready on his own terms and unlike the “eat your young” treatment Toronto Maple Leafs players may have experienced from the media in years gone by, Raptors players tend to get treated with “kid gloves”. Remembering James Johnson in his second stint with the Raptors thanked the local media post scrum for not asking about his recent legal problems at the time.
Throwing up softball questions to Raptors players is the norm in Toronto and it will help next July.
After seven NBA seasons, the 27-year-old Leonard isn’t a kid anymore and everyone should expect he’ll make his own decisions for his own reasons no matter what anyone does or says over the next 11.5 months. In the end it’s a job and Leonard, as an unrestricted free agent, can decide what’d best for him.
The Raptors will be hoping that polite, laid-back Toronto and playing for a very good team in the East is more attractive than being front and center with all the sometimes harsh media attention that should be expected in Los Angeles.
Here’s what someone who knows Leonard as well as anybody told me privately: “He’s going to fall in love with Toronto – it’s going to happen. He’s not going to leave, I’m telling you.”
It could happen.