Should Kawhi Say It?
The traditional tides of the NBA has swung 360 degrees with the Raptors and Warriors facing off in the Finals this year. As fans, we’ve grown used to the idea of Golden State being the golden standard. However, I remember when the idea of these two matching up in the Finals would have been laughed at. What makes sports so enthralling is the fact that simply anything can happen. In the case of Toronto, we are the clearest example of an underdog city that constantly built motivation on the notion that they were inferior to everyone else. That's why this has been such a fantastic euphoria felt by every Toronto native and the various fans abroad.
However, even as we are conquering mountain after mountain and continuing to prove our doubters incorrect, we have done so predominantly on the back of our best player, Kawhi Leonard. The superstar forward has asserted himself as arguably the best basketball player on Earth right now. He grabbed the playoffs by the scruff of the neck and willed the Raptors through this unbelievable season. One that will surely go down in Raptors folklore. As sweet as this dream has been, there's still that uncomfortable feeling. The topic this time being, Kawhi Leonard’s free agency.
Kawhi is a “California Kid”. His associates and he have always hinted at the player's love for his hometown. He has always missed the sunny shores of Los Angeles, who wouldn't? And when his relationship with San Antonio went sour, he was eager to go home. Reports came out that damaged the forward’s reputation and added fun to an otherwise confusing fire. However, when the San Diego State graduate was traded to Toronto, I was confident that he would warm to our culture, organization and fanbase. We've always had that impression on people we traded for. Everyone who gets here wants to stay here. However, Kawhi is unlike all of the others before him. He’s a tough nut to crack. The star forward has a small circle and doesn't necessarily enjoy the media. He has made massive strides over this year, leading the Raptors and speaking on their behalf every time he is asked to do so.
Leonard has never said anything bad about his stay in Toronto thus far and has actually shown positive signs that there's a chance he will resign with. But still I must admit, I would not bet either way. The truth is, nobody really knows what Kawhi will decide to do. However, what has struck my attention is that as much as we intend to bypass the idea, Kawhi’s pending decision is still a massive talking point.
The Raptors have managed to achieve history this season led by the heroics of Kawhi which has brought great joy to the Toronto faithful. It has also added a real sense of attachment and love for the player. A love that would rip the heart out of any fan if he left. Even the night of game 6, the biggest night in franchise history, all people could talk about was how Leonard’s sister was congratulating fans on Instagram live when a voice in the background yelled about how Kawhi was not staying in Toronto.
This type of stressful energy will persist whether we like it or not. It doesn't matter if we win or lose, the first question Leonard will be asked at the post-game presser will be about his pending free agency. As we expect, he will most likely give a textbook answer that gives no real information on the subject. On and on we will go until the decision is likely confirmed on July 1st. This has not affected the team as of yet it seems, but there is no question it is a lingering topic that must be addressed. Should Leonard just come out and give a clear indicator of whether he will stay or leave or at least the terms of his thought process? Does he owe it to the fanbase of this organization to give an obvious hint?
In fairness, he may not even know yet. That seems a bit far-fetched but it's a possibility. I believe ultimately Leonard will decide to stay. Contrary to the thousands of hours of sports media I have read and watched on the subject, I believe in Leonard’s character and I believe he will stay. The Clippers are a viable and possible option, without doubt, however, I believe the odds are in the Raptors favour. However even I will admit, this growing uncertainty, his personal rise and the fans continued support and attachment has made this all a bit complicated.
We’re in the finals and at this point, the decision will be made at the conclusion of the NBA season. However, should Kawhi hint his intentions immediately after the game whether we win or lose? I personally believe he owes that to the fanbase and the franchise who not only took a massive chance on him and traded a huge asset and fan favourite but also welcomed him with open arms made him our king and embraced his greatness. We await the king’s decision as he continues his goal to bring a championship to the North.