Each Raptors win makes it more likely Kawhi Leonard stays in Toronto, which would be disastrous for Celtics

Alex Reimer
May 22, 2019 - 10:00 am
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The Celtics will likely spend the next six weeks plotting how they can retain their superstar, Kyrie Irving, and land another one, Anthony Davis, in order to make the Finals run they were supposed to this season. General manager Danny Ainge must get creative, outlaying maximum contract offers and trying to coerce his New Orleans counterpart, David Griffin, into giving up the league’s most valuable trade target.

Then even if Ainge accomplishes that, he’ll be tasked with convincing Davis to stay in Boston. It will be the never-ending recruitment tour.

The Raptors appear to possess a much simpler path towards bringing back their alpha dog. 

Months ago, it seemed inevitable that Kawhi Leonard would bolt from Toronto as soon as he could. The Raptors acquired him from San Antonio last summer, despite reports he would rather sit out the entire season than play north of the border. But they took the risk, and it paid off. Leonard showed up to camp and wound up enjoying the best statistical season of his career, averaging a career-high 26.2 points per game.

And now, the Raptors are two wins away from reaching the NBA Finals. It’s still possible Leonard could head to Los Angeles or pursue another ritzy destination. But it would be awfully difficult to leave a team that’s on top. Each Raptors victory seemingly makes it more likely Leonard stays in Toronto. 

That’s real bad news for the Celtics, who were counting on a depleted Eastern Conference to work in their favor once again.

The Raptors became “increasingly confident” this season about their chances to re-sign Leonard, according to TSN. Those odds have only appeared to increase during the playoffs. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports Leonard is now “seriously considering” staying in Canada.

While Leonard has been a beast this postseason –– he’s scored at least 30 points in 10 of Toronto’s 16 playoff games, including a 36-point effort in Game 3 against Milwaukee –– the complete nature of the Raptors might be what’s most appealing to him. Case in point: they blew out the Bucks 120-102 in Game 4, despite Leonard scoring just 19 points (though 14 of them came in the decisive fourth quarter). 

Kyle Lowry’s shooting ability at point guard and Pascal Siakam’s development mean Leonard doesn’t have to do it himself. It might not be a Big 3 in terms of star power, but if they win, nothing else matters.

In addition to the winning, Leonard is being offered free meals at restaurants throughout the Toronto metro area, thanks to the city’s #KaWineandDine initiative. 

Thanks @republikeast for your support and for being a part of the Ka’Wine & Dine. Let’s keep Kawhi in Toronto. #kawineanddine #hestay #kinginthenorth #toronto #raptors #6ix

A post shared by KaWine And Dine (@kawineanddine) on

This is the era of player power in the NBA, so Leonard could still spur the Raptors. The Celtics better hope that’s the case. The Raptors staying together makes the road out of the East that much more difficult. 

And just imagine how disastrous it would be if Irving and Kevin Durant really did pair up with the Knicks in New York City.

Oh, and the Greek Freak will return to the No. 1 seed Bucks, barring unforeseen circumstances. 

Last year at this time, it seemed like the Celtics were poised to dominate the East for at least the next half-decade. Now they’re playing from behind. 

Related: Magic Johnson thinks Lakers can acquire Kyrie Irving

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