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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Basketball

Raptors fan has incredible ‘housewarming gift’ for Kawhi Leonard

Many Raptors fans took time out from celebrating their team’s NBA Finals victory on Thursday night to plead with Kawhi Leonard to stick around for at least another season, but one guy who was roaming the streets of Toronto made by far the most enticing pitch.

Amid all the chaos in downtown Toronto was one fan who was walking around with a very large plant in his hand. When a local reporter asked him for an explanation, he said he was waiting to see Leonard so he could give him the housewarming gift.

“It’s a housewarming gift for Kawhi,” the fan deadpanned. “He’s staying.”

The fan clearly had no idea what kind of plant he was carrying, but he eventually came up with a name for it — a “Kawactus.” That’s not bad.

One report from earlier in the postseason claimed that Leonard already has a spot for that plant in Toronto, but the Finals MVP said that is not true. He also may have dropped a hint on Thursday night that he is planning to leave the Raptors, but maybe he has done enough for Toronto to earn the housewarming gift either way.

2020 NBA championship odds see major shift after Klay Thompson injury

Klay Thompson knee

This NBA offseason is going to be one of the most interesting in recent history after the unfortunate injuries both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered, and the shifting in Las Vegas odds shows just how much uncertainty there is heading into the 2019-20 season.

Even with Durant expected to miss all of next year while recovering from a torn Achilles, the Golden State Warriors still entered Game 6 of the NBA Finals as the favorites to win the title in 2020 with +190 odds. Then Thompson tore his ACL, and we saw some major changes.

As of Friday, the Milwaukee Bucks — not the Warriors — had the best odds to win it all next season. As gifdsports notes, the Los Angeles Lakers also saw their chances take a major swing from +2000 to +700.

What does it all mean? Not a whole lot, but the injuries to Durant and Thompson create a massive element of uncertainty. Thompson was considered a lock to remain with the Warriors before his torn ACL, and that may still be the case. However, can they really re-sign both him and Durant and risk not having neither play at all next season? Even if they do, Golden State may be looking at a year off from title contention.

The Eastern Conference also got weaker after Durant’s injury, which probably explains why the Bucks are now at the top of the championship odds list. While at least one East team is willing to offer Durant a max contract despite his injury, there was potential several days ago for Durant to change the landscape of the East next year. Even if he does sign with an Eastern Conference team now, he isn’t going to be able to help in 2019-20.

If Kawhi Leonard decides to stick with the Toronto Raptors, they should easily be the favorites to repeat. Having them at +800 indicates oddsmakers expect him to leave, which he may have hinted at following Game 6.

Stay tuned and fasten your seatbelts.

Masai Ujiri promises Raptors will win more championships

Masai Ujiri Raptors

Masai Ujiri was largely responsible for building the roster that helped the Toronto Raptors capture their first championship in franchise history, and he is not going to be satisfied winning just one.

Following his team’s win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, Ujiri “guaranteed” that the Raptors will win more titles in his tenure with the team.

The biggest takeaway from that remark is that Ujiri doesn’t plan to go anywhere. The Raptors president is going to be pursued by numerous rival teams this offseason, and at least one is prepared to make a massive offer to convince him to leave Toronto. He could — and should — use an offer like that to get more money from the Raptors, but he clearly wants to stick around.

Ujiri took a risk by trading for Kawhi Leonard knowing he could be a one-year rental, and it has already paid off. If Leonard decides to stay for at least another season, there’s no reason the Raptors can’t start thinking about a repeat. And even if Leonard does leave, Ujiri is considered one of the best executives in the NBA for a reason. He’ll figure something else out.

10 most intriguing NBA free agents

Kevin Durant

The 2018-2019 NBA season is in the books, and now free agency looms in the coming weeks. The class is absolutely loaded with talented players who could change the league. While there are obvious names, there are also some less visible players that have the opportunity to hit the open market and make a real impact, whether it’s by staying with their current team or seeking a new home. Much will revolve around the stars, but the market is deep, and there are a lot of exciting storylines to follow as teams look to chase down the Toronto Raptors to become the next NBA champion.

Here are ten free agents whose journeys this summer will be among the most intriguing.

10. Khris Middleton, F

Middleton has become an enormous part of the Milwaukee Bucks’ rise to the top of the Eastern Conference, but if they want to keep him, they’re going to have to pony up the cash. Middleton has hinted that he won’t give the Bucks a hometown discount, and his comments all but confirmed his intention to decline his player option. A premier three-and-D forward, he can help many teams, but his best fit may be Milwaukee — if they pay him.

(more…)

City of Toronto celebrated like crazy after Raptors’ win

Kawhi Leonard bottle

Toronto Raptors fans have been waiting a long time for their team to bring home a championship, and the way the city celebrated following Thursday night’s win helped put the popularity of the Raptors into perspective.

All major cities throw massive victory parades when their team wins a title, and they’re usually attended by hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of fans. But after the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the city of Toronto could not wait to get the party started. Check out these awesome videos:

While they had one really embarrassing moment during the playoffs, the way Raptors fans supported their team was incredible. It’s usually an exaggeration to say an entire city got behind a team, but it looks like that is exactly what happened in Toronto.

Masai Ujiri accused of hitting sheriff deputy in face after Game 6

Masai Ujiri Raptors

A drama-filled NBA Finals concluded with one more dramatic report.

NBC Bay Area reported after Game 6 ended that Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri was accused of hitting a sheriff deputy in the face at the end of the game. Ujiri allegedly was denied access onto the court after the Raptors won 114-110 to capture the NBA title due to a lack of credentials.

NBC says the sheriffs are calling it a misdemeanor battery. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and the Oakland Police Department are investigating.

Ujiri, 48, joined the Raptors in 2013 and helped build them into a contender. His decisions to gamble by acquiring Kawhi Leonard, firing Dwane Casey, and adding Marc Gasol at the trade deadline culminated with the team winning the championship. He reportedly is being pursued by the Washington Wizards.

Did Kawhi Leonard tip hand about leaving Raptors in free agency?

The way Kawhi Leonard phrased an answer during an interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt after winning the NBA championship on Thursday night has some wondering whether he tipped his hand about his free agency plans. Specifically, some think the way he called Toronto “them” instead of “us” means he is likely headed elsewhere.

About an hour after winning the game, Leonard joined Van Pelt on ESPN for an interview.

“What’s the most satisfying thing for you, to have brought what you brought to this group who had never done it, and then to get there. For you personally, what’s the most satisfying, Kawhi?” Van Pelt asked.

“Just making history here, bringing the organization their first championship. It’s just something that the Raptors could build on, that we all could build on. That was my goal. I wanted to get them to the Finals their first year. That was all our goal. Obviously once we got here was the next step to win it all,” Leonard said.

Here’s the video:

Though the argument that he was tipping his plans is worth debating, I think there is another way to look at his answer.

Leonard was asked to talk about what he brought to the organization as an outsider, a new player coming in to join the team from San Antonio. Because Van Pelt framed the question in that manner, Leonard may have gone back in time and began describing how he felt before he joined the team, before the season started. Then once he talked about making the Finals, he changed to his present mindset and talked about the Raptors as “we.”

There have been other times during the postseason that led us to believe Leonard would be leaving Toronto, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he did. But the way he answered the question does not necessarily indicate he is gone. Either way, Raptors fans can’t be too mad considering he brought them their first championship in franchise history.