The first domino in a pivotal and unpredictable summer has fallen, with the Lakers trading for Anthony Davis for, basically, what they were offering six months ago. It’s a big deal and it reshapes the West and in light of Golden State’s disastrous Finals, makes the Lakers the favorites. For now. That could change in within weeks as free agency gears up, but the biggest free agent—one we know can swing entire seasons, because we just saw him do it—has been trailed by the least amount of speculation.
It’s not as if everyone (especially the Raptors) isn’t desperate to know where Kawhi Leonard is going to go next season. It’s just that he hasn’t given the slightest hint of his intentions, publicly or leaked. Leonard remains as inscrutable as ever. If, as was surmised last season, he just wants to go home to Southern California, that suggests the Clippers or, dear god, the Lakers, and it’d mean nothing that happened over the last year could have changed things. If he cares about roster construction, that’s not helpful because Leonard has never indicated who or what types of players he likes playing with. And if it’s just about winning? Well, that’d mean re-signing in Toronto ... wouldn’t it?
Fred VanVleet, a day ahead of the parade, mused on the pointlessness of musing:
“There is nothing more that we can do. We’ve done it. The city has done it. This franchise had done it. The coaches have done it. My teammates have done it. We’ve done our job. The best way to recruit somebody is to just be yourself over the course of the year, and I would assume that he knows what is here and what makes this place special. If it’s enough then it’s enough. If it’s not then it’s not.”
By now Leonard knows if he likes what’s going on in Toronto, though in true Leonard fashion, only he knows. “I don’t really know,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said on Sunday, a sentiment echoed in more or fewer words by just about every Raptors player that spoke at the team’s first media availability since winning the championship. Leonard, true to form, was not among them.
If Leonard cares about being worshipped by fans—and he’s never shown that he does in the slightest—he’s basically a national hero now in a way that he could never be on a U.S.-based team. He brought Toronto and Canada its first NBA title, and at Monday’s parade he’s going to be cheered louder than anyone, and there’s still a plant with his name on it, and he’ll never have to buy his own sack of apples in this town again.
Leonard’s plans are as crucial to the Raptors’ summer as his play was to their season. Marc Gasol, who can opt out of his contract, acknowledged that whether Leonard stays or leaves is going to play some role in his decision. “I’m sure it’ll have something to do with it,” Gasol said. Danny Green, a free agent himself, said that Kawhi’s free agency, “weighs on, I think, a lot of guys’ free agency decisions.” And, of course—though they don’t want to think about this just yet—if Leonard leaves the Raptors will have the cap space to offer someone else a max deal. For as attractive as they hope they’ve made themselves to Leonard, the Raptors would be just as appealing to another top free agent.
VanVleet addressed the realities of the situation with the confidence level of, well, Fred VanVleet in the Finals.
“We would all love for him to be back and if he’s not then we will move on from there. It’s not the biggest deal in the world. He came here and did what he was supposed to do. So he brought this city a championship and I think he has earned his freedom and his career to do what he wants to do and we’ll all respect him and admire him.
“And if he’s on another team, we’ll have to kick his ass next year. But hopefully he’ll be back.”