Kawhi Leonard won’t be running it back with the NBA champs next year, but the Toronto Raptors aren’t planning on blowing up their roster.
Even with Leonard gone, TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reports Raptors president Masai Ujiri intends to give his team a fighting chance to defend its title. That means he’ll hold onto veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka — all of whom are on expiring deals — to start the season.
Yes, Serge, you can relax.
Toronto won’t be the juggernaut it was with Leonard leading the charge, but the squad went 17-5 without the Finals MVP in the lineup in 2018-19, and the rest of the core is largely unchanged. Raptors coach Nick Nurse knows what he’ll get from Lowry, Ibaka and Gasol, and breakout star Pascal Siakam only figures to get better fresh off his Most Improved Player award. The club has also made several low-risk, depth-bolstering signings in the wake of Leonard’s departure.
The Eastern Conference is fairly wide open, with the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers appearing to be the top contenders, especially with the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant expected to miss all of next season. The Raptors still seem like a lock for a playoff spot, and could easily challenge for home-court advantage.
If things aren’t going according to plan by the trade deadline, Ujiri could always decide to pull the trigger and move one or all of the veteran trio to a rival looking for a piece to take them over the top. At the very least, the Raptors will have significant cap space moving forward once the three come off the books.
Raptors-Thunder trade wasn’t close
After the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to trade Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers to join Leonard, reports emerged that the Raptors were also in talks with the Thunder for a potential blockbuster.
It wasn’t just George’s name that came up, but also Russell Westbrook. Lewenberg refuted that Westbrook’s name was mentioned, and was told discussions between the two teams never became serious enough to reach the Raptors’ highest-ranking executives.
Toronto ultimately wasn’t willing to meet the Thunder’s demands, and likely wouldn’t have been able to match the Clippers’ overwhelming offer anyways.
Kawhi’s camp made ‘unreasonable requests’
During the Raptors’ meeting with Leonard and his representatives, the infamous Uncle Dennis was asking Ujiri for things not usually requested in standard negotiations, per Lewenberg. The nature of the demands reportedly forced Toronto to wonder if the superstar was truly even seriously considering a return.
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