LeBron James: leader or manager?

Does the NBA have an epidemic of poor leadership?

LeBron James: leader or manager?

Every basketball team has a clear hierarchy of talent with a leader who is required to give direction on defense and offense and to act as the clutch option at the end of games. Anyone in the NBA can score 25 points on a given night, but some players handle pressure without hesitation, and can score and defend with more ease and consistency than others. The most talented or poised player is often the team leader, and if you’ve reached the talent level of LeBron James, you can even become a team manager.

Where franchises now depend on assembling a “big three” group, three players with enough talent and star power are expected to lead a team to relevance. This trend began in 2010, when Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James teamed up on the Miami Heat. For James’ teams, this recruiting process has continued ever since. After a huge mid-season switch up in Cleveland and a mediocre start to the season this year, LeBron has made it his mission to recruit Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Mid-season recruiting tactics generate incredible media attention. However, as these last few weeks have proved, the Lakers are more concerned with chasing superstars to satisfy LeBron than with developing their young talents, and I am beginning to question his leadership tactics.

At first, Lebron’s decision to play for this young Lakers team appeared to be a humble career move. They had just missed the playoffs, and their championship potential was at least three seasons away. There was no clear leader until James came through the door. I assumed that the trade demonstrated a desire to remain patient and play a few seasons to develop young talent before winning another title.

Now in mid-season, the Lakers have offered five young, talented players — Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac, and Kontavious Caldwell-Pope — in addition to two first round picks, to the New Orleans Pelicans in return for Anthony Davis, a top-three NBA player. This one is really easy to spell out. LeBron and Davis share the same agent, and after their game on December 22, they had dinner together. A couple of weeks later, Davis openly said that he wanted a trade and that his preferred destination was the Lakers.

Lebron recently returned to the Lakers following a groin injury that ended up being the longest injury setback of his career. The injury occurred on December 25, and he did not return to the court until January 31. American sports analyst Chris Broussard explained that James’ absence exposed the team’s lack of potential without their superstar. He added that the five week absence showed that, for the Lakers, “This is what [they] have, and if [they] want to win a championship, then [they] better go get more.” Of the first 10 games without LeBron, the team won three.

Sports columnist Skip Bayless responded to Broussard by saying that LeBron may have intentionally perpetuated a narrative that his team is not strong enough in order to increase the organization’s dependence on him.

I believe LeBron’s lengthy absence may have been a way to let his young teammates play on their own to boost their trade value. LeBron clearly knew the team would need a big change. So does he really appreciate Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma? Perhaps not enough to form a tight-knit, committed team culture.

We now know that the Lakers did not land Anthony Davis by the February 7 trade deadline. If they make the playoffs, LeBron will once again be talked about as the player who somehow lifted a bunch of solid, but not great, young players to success — a narrative he is happy with bearing.

But let’s consider the feelings of the younger Lakers. Their leader has sat out for an extended time, and now there has been a call to send about one third of the team and future draft picks to the Pelicans.

For the past 10 days, Lakers players have had to come into work not knowing whether they would be in the same workplace the next week. This is an uncomfortable reality for NBA players that is often dismissed as a ‘part of the business.’

But what if you knew that your team leader had a say in all of these decisions? Nearly every Laker knows they are trade options, and that, together, they have less value than a single player — Anthony Davis.

All along, the ball has been in the Pelicans’ court. They have Davis and will not move him unless they are completely satisfied with a struck deal. So what happens when they can’t make a deal? The Lakers end up being forced to play the next half of their NBA season knowing that their leader would have rather sent them packing.

Hours before the trade deadline, knowing that Davis would not be a Laker this season, LeBron was already working hard to once again change the narrative.

Harrison Barnes was traded mid game on Wednesday night from the Dallas Mavericks to the Sacramento Kings, and James was quick to make an Instagram post condemning this move as disrespectful to Barnes. In the meantime, he has helped shop nearly half of his team.

On Saturday morning, he said, “The suspense and the excitement around the trade deadline is always… pretty crazy.” He added, “There’s nothing I need to get in this league that I don’t already have. Everything else for me is just like icing on the cake… There’s nothing I’m chasing for.”

While LeBron claims that he’s not pushing for anything, the drama is completely regular for LeBron’s teams. Of course he is pushing for something; he wants more rings. He’s LeBron James, after all.

Now that his plan has failed, James won’t let the public believe that he was in charge of the Davis pursuit. He’s a master at handling the media and controlling the narrative. After his routine mid-season trade push got the team nowhere, only time will tell if he’s still respected in the locker room.

The NBA needs to take a stand

Why Charlotte shouldn’t host the 2019 NBA All-Star Game

The NBA needs to take a stand

In February, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina will host the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend, where the best basketball players in the world will team up and compete against each other. On the surface, this may seem like nothing out of the ordinary — just another city hosting the final night’s All-Star Game. However, avid NBA fans know that this is Charlotte’s second go at hosting the event.

The city had been previously announced as host for the event’s 2017 edition, before having its role stripped in response to North Carolina’s passing of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or HB2, which discriminated against the LGBTQ+ community by excluding sexual orientation and gender identity from the definition of nondiscrimination.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver responded to the situation early, warning that if significant changes were not made, Charlotte would not host an All-Star game.

In an effort to regain the game, which typically generates tens of millions of dollars in revenue, the state government repealed HB2 in March 2017.

Keeping his word, Silver agreed to give Charlotte another crack at hosting the 2019 All-Star Weekend. While the NBA undoubtedly helped to catalyze change within the North Carolina legislature, it failed to uphold its own standards by not holding out for more change.

For many years, and especially since Silver was named commissioner in 2014, the NBA has prided itself on being the most progressive North American major sports league. While the NFL has not supported players protesting the national anthem, the biggest stars in the NBA have spoken out in support of social justice causes, with the support of the league’s front office.

The NBA as a league has recently launched new social justice platforms centred around diversity and equality. Individual teams have also taken on significant roles in their communities, ranging from the Boston Celtics leading anti-bullying campaigns to the Golden State Warriors hosting an open discussion between law enforcement officers and the community.

For a league that prides itself on standing up for what it believes is right, it should have been a no brainer to demand that North Carolina do better. So, while the NBA helped to get HB2 repealed, it stopped short of truly protecting LGBTQ+ rights. Upon repealing HB2, Governor Roy Cooper banned local governments from making any changes to discrimination laws for three years.

This is not an invalidation of all the hard work that the NBA has done over the years regarding social issues. However, there is a time and place to stand one’s ground. For Silver and the NBA, that should have been with Charlotte hosting the All-Star Game. As Silver himself put it, “In this day and age, you really do have to stand for something.”

He’s right, you do have to stand for something. In this case, the NBA should have stood a little longer.

Opinion from the Sports Ethicist: pay for play in the NCAA

How to incentivize college play for college athletes

Opinion from the Sports Ethicist: pay for play in the NCAA

Should college athletes be paid? Just last week, star high school basketball player Maori Davenport was suspended from playing on her team because she cashed an $857.20 USD cheque given to her by USA Basketball. A similar case occurred in 2016 when University of Texas swimmer and Singapore native Joseph Schooling received $740,000 USD from the Singapore National Olympic Council for winning its first gold medal in the 2016 Olympic Games.

This controversy around the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the non-profit body that regulates athletes and athletic programs in over 1,000 American schools and Simon Fraser University, was triggered last year. Evidence surfaced that various high-profile Adidas executives and coaches had paid men’s basketball and football recruits five-figure sums to influence their recruitment. American schools such as the University of Kansas and the University of Louisville were giving out scholarships to ineligible players, while they were also engaged in bidding wars to attract players to their schools.

These findings were followed up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In October, two Adidas employees and one agent were found guilty of wire fraud, sending shockwaves through the NCAA, with NCAA president Mark Emmert promising swift change in the world of collegiate sports.

While there are more federal trials left, as well as NCAA internal investigations, in early December, Emmert seemed to soften his initial stance when he announced that the NCAA panel overseeing the investigations will be put together in August, almost two years after the initial arrests.

So what has really changed as we enter 2019? In addition to the three arrests made, two Louisville Cardinals coaches were fired, while former Cardinals player Brian Bowen II has left to play in Australia after NCAA regulations restricted his eligibility. Nothing substantial, however, has really changed.

It seems that time and time again, athletes are being penalized for receiving any sort of pay for their athletic endeavours. A Drexel University study has shown that if college Division I basketball and football players were paid in equal proportions to their professional counterparts, the average player would be making $260,000 USD.

There are concerns regarding compensation, such as determining what the rates of compensation should be. Questions remain about whether players should receive equal pay, how to deal with discrepancies between school budgets, and how this could affect some of these athletes actually working on finishing a degree at these institutions.

While these questions have been debated for decades now, a utilitarian approach would be the most beneficial in this context.

Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy principle that dictates that the right thing to do in any situation is one that leads to the most happiness and least pain for the greatest number of people. If pay-for-play continues to be illegal, student athletes will continue to be put in an uncomfortable position — they are the ones bringing in nearly $10 billion for their schools, but they only see compensation in terms of athletic scholarships.

The current approach doesn’t maximize the gains for players, and coaching staff see none of the benefits. This gave rise to the current situation: underhanded deals between schools, athletic companies, and players that damage the reputation of college athletics. This approach has seemingly failed to provide equal opportunity in recruiting between institutions. It also promotes the current culture of athletes leaving after a year or two of post-graduate studies in order to support their financial interests.

“There’re student athletes participating in sport but they’re [receiving] scholarships to develop their academics and earn a degree, but they are clearly athletes first and students second, and many of them don’t see the benefit of that academic experience anyways,” says Simon Darnell, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.

On the other hand, paying athletes seems like a fair distribution of the funds that the players bring in: it allows them to start to build their futures with a brand if they reach the professional leagues, while it also enables them to support themselves and their families. This approach, therefore, seems to bring in more benefits than the current restrictions do.

One thing that we commonly see are NBA players only spending one or two years in college due to financial issues: legalizing payment would allow players to stay in school longer, thus developing their games while also finishing their degrees. Caps on the amount of money each school is allowed to offer could potentially equalize recruiting opportunities across institutions, and strict regulations could ensure regular class attendance.

Through stricter regulation, this initiative limits the corruption that we have seen within the NCAA case, while it also seems to maximize benefits and minimize risks for all involved.

“It’s hard to imagine how [the NCAA] still justify that to themselves. There’s just so much money being made, and those who are labouring to see that money made don’t really see a cut in any significant way. There are lots of arguments to be made that their labour is being exploited,” says Darnell. “We have to give up on the idea that this is an academic enterprise and that this is a professional sport. It is a professional sport in every sense of the word except for paying the players.”

Paying student athletes isn’t a foreign concept — we’ve seen athletes like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James sign professional contracts right after high school. Why should it be so different for aspiring professional athletes in college?

Why the Raptors deserve to play on Christmas

The NBA annually snubs Toronto on Christmas Day

Why the Raptors deserve to play on Christmas

For your common NBA basketball fan, enjoying a lineup of spectacular basketball is a beloved Christmas Day tradition.

Christmas basketball games regularly showcase the best teams in the league, highlighting the association’s biggest superstars and some key rivalries. Although the Toronto Raptors have made the playoffs for five straight seasons, made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016, and further raised their profile by acquiring a bona fide superstar in Kawhi Leonard, they will still be getting coal for Christmas this year.

The NBA’s decision to overlook the Raptors yet again is particularly frustrating given the stellar performance of Toronto’s team — currently on top of the Eastern Conference — and the actual lineup of contenders for December 25. The New York Knicks, currently sitting near the bottom of the East, will be playing for the umpteenth time on Christmas, almost exclusively due to tradition.

Another convention is to schedule a rematch of the finals from the same year. As with the last three years, that would mean a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. But of course, LeBron James doesn’t play in Cleveland anymore, which is why this year’s Christmas Day lineup will feature a game between Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The only franchises remaining without a Chritmas Day game are the Charlotte Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Raptors were gifted with one game, way back in 2001.

Not to be forgotten, Christmas is a very personal and special day for a lot of players, coaches, and their families. Players acknowledge that December 25 games are a sacrifice, but also an honour and a privilege. Consider LeBron; after this year, he will have played in 13 Christmas Day games in his 16-year career. Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, never has.

On the topic, Lowry told the media, “I’ve always in my life wanted to play a Christmas game… It’s never happened, but I’ve always had the opportunity to always be with my family on Christmas. It’s a blessing to be able to not play, but at the same you always want that one time you play on Christmas… You get the special shoes. The Christmas jerseys. That’s one I want to frame one day. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to do it.”

There are five games on Christmas; that means that 10 teams play. If the NBA reasons that out of 30 teams in the league, the Raptors don’t qualify as being in the top 10, then they’re the ones on the naughty list this year.

Hopefully, a new generation of Raptors fans will get to see their team play on Christmas one day.

The importance of free agency

Kevin Durant’s move to the Warriors exemplifies the purpose of free agency

The importance of free agency

In July 2016, NBA superstar Kevin Durant became an unrestricted free agent. After eight seasons with Oklahoma City Thunder without winning a title, Durant wanted to play elsewhere.

In the history of the NBA, it’s rare for a player of Durant’s calibre to become an unrestricted free agent in the middle of his prime.

The entire free agency process — from his four-hour meeting with the Boston Celtics to a two-hour meeting with almost the entire Golden State Warriors team, and so on — was covered minute-by-minute by the media.

With Durant’s ultimate decision and without games on the horizon, his free agency gave fans something to talk about.

Durant joined the Warriors on July 4, 2016, and we all know how that went: the team won two straight NBA championships. So, how did this whole ‘free agency’ fiasco even start? And how has player mobility empowered stars like Durant?

Free agency, along with the NBA’s salary cap increase from $70 million to $94 million in 2016, has allowed stronger NBA franchises to pay multiple superstars at one time, creating a top-heavy league. As an additional caveat, many superstars like Durant have signed on below market value to increase their mobility and play where they want.

For example, DeMarcus Cousins signed a relatively cheap short-term deal with the Warriors in July after an Achilles injury. ‘Cheap’ is the operative word, as he will make only $5.3 million this season, a substantial decrease from $18.1 million in 2017–2018.

While four all-stars playing on one team is infuriating for fans outside of Oakland, maintaining player rights and freedoms is more important than allowing teams to own players.

Sports leagues have not always allowed players to become free agents.

In 1975, pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith refused to sign their contract with the MLB’s Oakland Athletics and demanded freedom in the open market. Baseball contracts used to include a reserve clause, which meant that players were bound to their team in perpetuity and the team had the right to extend a contract without a word from the player.

The arbitrator’s decision that November ruled in favour of free agency, allowing players to sign on the open market once a contract expires.

Up until 1988, NBA players could only be drafted or traded as their teams essentially owned them.

In 1987, the Seattle SuperSonics drafted two frontcourt rookies, making six-foot-ten forward Tom Chambers a hindrance to their lineup. Chambers, a proven NBA star, needed a franchise that would make the most out of his talent. Head of the NBA player’s union Larry Fleisher told Chambers that he may be able to “get this unrestricted free agency thing done.”

A few days later, it was official. Players whose contracts had ended could freely join any team as long as they had been in the league for over seven years and had finished two contracts. Chambers immediately joined the Phoenix Suns and led them to the Western Conference Finals in consecutive seasons.

Durant’s move to the Warriors wouldn’t have been possible without Chambers and Fleisher.

Free agency has allowed players to choose where they want to work, a freedom that all citizens are rightfully allowed.

Players are no longer treated as a small piece of a larger business. Their talent, coupled with the freedom of free agency, allows them to make the demands necessary to nearly run an organization. After all, shouldn’t those who produce the entertainment reap the most benefits from their skill?

In Duke Canada Tour, Toronto plays host to talented freshman class

Top recruit RJ Barrett makes his homecoming

In Duke Canada Tour, Toronto plays host to talented freshman class

What a week it had been for Canadian basketball. When last month’s Duke Canada Tour came to an end, the impact the event had on basketball development in Canada cannot be overstated. Canadians in Toronto and Montréal had the opportunity to witness the top two ranked players in the country, Zion Williamson and our homegrown talent, RJ Barrett.

As fortunate as these two cities were to host the Duke Blue Devils on their international tour, this event almost didn’t happen. The National Collegiate Athletic Association only permits college basketball teams to travel internationally once every four years during the summer to test themselves against competition abroad.

Initially, the Blue Devils were supposed to travel to the Dominican Republic last summer, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski fell ill, and their tour was postponed to this year, where RJ Barrett had the opportunity to play his first few games as a Blue Devil in the city he was raised in.

For the Varsity Blues, this provided another opportunity for international competition. They finished with a bronze medal in a tournament in Taiwan earlier this summer, and now they had another opportunity to build team camaraderie before their regular season begins in October.

The Blue Devils arrived in Toronto on August 24 for a media day presser at the Westin Harbor Castle. Coach K opened up with high praise for Canada and the amazing relationship he’s had with Jay Triano, head coach of the Canada basketball team. When asked about his first time in Toronto, he had this to say: “I didn’t realize what a great city Toronto was. So multicultural. A world city. Not just a great Canadian city, but a world city. It really opens its arms to all different types of cultures.”

Before tip-off on Friday evening, the atmosphere was electric. The parking lot was filled with school buses that carried students and families travelling from Duke University. The crowd looked like a sea of royal blue, filled with fans from across Ontario, here to witness this rare opportunity. Former Varsity Blues athletes were also in attendance to support the current roster, as well as NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson and Canadian track star Andre De Grasse.

Streamed on ESPN and TSN, this was likely the first time our Varsity players competed on national television, and while the nerves were likely there, they didn’t show. The Blues came out strong and hung around the far more talented Blue Devils. Leading the way was fourth-year forward Nikola Paradina, who finished with a team-high 15 points alongside three assists and three baskets from the perimeter.

While some fans came to support RJ Barrett, there were many fans in the arena waiting for Duke forward Zion Williamson to get off on a fast break and showcase his vertical ability. That opportunity came minutes into the first quarter, when Williamson stole the ball, glided in the air for what seemed like an eternity, and dunked, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The final score was 96–60 for the Blue Devils as they separated themselves in the second half, but that wasn’t truly indicative of how competitive the matchup was. As the buzzer sounded, our Varsity Blues did not hang their head in defeat; the team put forth their best effort against the top-ranked school in the US.

“I think it was a tremendous experience for our players. It’s once in a lifetime to play against a program that is so historically significant. Their current roster is really quite something so for our guys to compete against them is really special,” said head coach John Campbell.

Krzyzewski also spoke highly of the Varsity Blues, saying “Toronto does what they need to do with their talent, that is to kind of spread you and get shuffle cuts off the high post… they keep their spacing well.”

The Blue Devils finished the week 3–0 after defeating the Ryerson Rams and the McGill Redmen as well. As the Duke Canada Tour concluded, Coach K had this to say about their time spent here: “The guys loved it. My players loved it, they didn’t like it, they loved it… As good as we thought we’d feel about the whole experience, it’s exponentially better… The three coaches and theirs teams, they were fabulous in preparing and testing us.”

For Canadian programs to have the opportunity to go against one of the most respected basketball programs in the world comes with invaluable experience to prepare them for the season ahead. The Varsity Blues will be back in preseason action on September 28 against the Dalhousie Tigers.

What’s behind the increase of vegans in the NBA?

Basketball players are joining the animal-free wave

What’s behind the increase of vegans in the NBA?

One of the rising nutritional trends among athletes today is veganism. This is especially pronounced in the the world of basketball, where more and more players are turning toward vegan diets and lifestyles.

A vegan is defined as someone who doesn’t eat animals or any animal products, which includes all meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products.

As athletes continue to devise strategies to increase performance, ideas around diet and nutrition have also evolved, whether that be hiring personal chefs or even nutritionists to watch what they put into their bodies. The amount that NBA players invest into themselves has dramatically increased over the past decade, with keeping track of their diets and what caused them to be injured being among the leading forces in the so-called revolution.

“I had a recurring injury in my knee,” free agent Jahlil Okafor told SB Nation. “I just kept getting hurt and my knee was always inflamed. The main cause of my knee being swollen was dairy. I cut dairy, watched a few documentaries. Then, I cut out steak, cut out chicken, then gradually started cutting out every animal-based product.”

“Now I’m just an all-out vegan,” added Okafor.

Okafor is not alone in the NBA’s latest growing trend, with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, and Wilson Chandler taking up the vegan way of life.

The changing nature of basketball play coincides with this trend. According to Bleacher Report, the NBA has been leaning toward playing ‘small ball,’ a style of play in which the emphasis is placed on leaner athletes who play a variety of positions to outpace and ultimately outrun their opponents. The rise of small ball has seen a decrease in the weight of players since 2013.

It’s important that NBA players on vegan diets have still been able to maintain strength training during the offseason. Performance-wise, players want to increase muscle mass to increase weight, making them more likely to overwhelm an opposing defender when posting up or finishing through a contact at the rim on a layup attempt. Putting on this muscle weight has traditionally been done through high-carbohydrate, high-protein diets.

However, if players add too much muscle, they’ll become too slow to keep up with the faster, more agile players, and they will have endurance issues throughout the game, making them less effective. This can lower minutes on the court in the short term, and, in the long term, it will affect a player’s market value. Vegan diets can allow players to put on enough muscle to stay competitive on the court without running the risk of being too heavy in an increasingly fast game.

Veganism also isn’t unique to the NBA. Despite the rigorous training and dietary requirements in the NFL, 11 members of the Tennessee Titans followed in linebacker Wesley Woodward’s footsteps and adopted a plant-based diet.

Woodward told AP Sports, “My energy level’s gone up… It’s just putting in good fuel to your body. And of course, it’s always hard to keep weight on this time of the season. But it’s worth it for me staying on top of my health.”

NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both enjoy near vegan diets; Rodgers has cut out dairy from his diet but still indulges in red meat and fish, while Brady credits not consuming dairy or inflammatory foods like peppers, mushrooms, and eggplants to his career’s longevity as he continues to play at a high level at 41.

All things considered, it appears that the traditional idea of bulking up with lots of meat is waning in popularity, and new ideas are being tried, both for competitive purposes and for personal health. It will be up to the players to decide what is right for them.

And while professional athletes are on a different level from the average person, for those of us who are more health conscious, the same benefits on a micro level can be applied here. For example, due to the lower amount of saturated fats and cholesterol consumed in a vegan diet, cardiovascular health is improved, reducing the risk of heart disease. And eating anti-inflammatory foods like kale, spinach, tomatoes, and blueberries can increase energy levels.

In the end, though we aren’t professional athletes, let alone elite basketball players, the fact that more athletes are gravitating toward health conscious options underscores an important emphasis on health and well-being. That should push us toward the ultimate goal of a better lifestyle, on our own terms.

Can Kawhi Leonard deliver the Raptors a title?

Six Varsity contributors provide their thoughts on the mega-trade

Can Kawhi Leonard deliver the Raptors a title?

Last week, the Toronto Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poetl, and a first-round draft pick, and I, for one, could not be happier.

The Raptors finished last season with a disappointing playoff run, but the team still has a great defense and one of the best benches in the NBA. The team was hindered by mediocre leadership from their star players.

Adding Leonard, a top-five player, NBA champion, and two-time defensive player of the year is the best possible outcome for the Raptors, even if he only plays for one season. While many idealists and DeRozan fans are hurting, I ask, what more were you expecting from DeRozan?

Do you like seeing a star choke and break your heart every postseason? Was he really worth holding on to? In the end, a four-game sweep by an inferior Cavaliers team signaled to Masai Ujiri that enough is enough, and DeRozan is expendable.

To the many fans who are appalled by the way DeRozan’s trade was handled, you probably haven’t been watching the NBA for very long. It is the nature of the league to send players away on short notice, and even against their desires. Nothing especially horrible or new has happened in DeRozan’s situation. The NBA is a business first.

And, to those who say that Kawhi is just a “one-year rental” and not worth the price, I encourage you to see this season optimistically.

Take pride in yourself as a Canadian and as a Raptors fan. We all assumed Paul George would leave Oklahoma City after one year, but this summer he extended his contract by four years because the Thunder fans showed him the love he deserves. Toronto is a far better home than Oklahoma City.

We must show Kawhi the same affection that we once showed Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, and DeMar DeRozan. Kawhi is one of the best on-ball defenders ever to play basketball and has the chance to be the greatest player in Raptors history.

The addition of Kawhi is a godsend for the Raptors and it’s time that fans let go of their DeRozan guilt, celebrate his contributions to the franchise, and welcome Kawhi Leonard with as much love and appreciation as possible.

— Isaac Consenstein

When evaluating the success of a trade, the two most important criteria to consider are: Did you get better players in exchange for who you gave up? And, did you do so without sacrificing your future? The Raptors passed both of these tests with flying colours when they acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Poetl, and a protected first-round pick.

Leonard is an instant upgrade from DeRozan in nearly all phases of the game.

Since entering the NBA in 2012, Leonard has averaged nearly a third more rebounds per game than DeRozan at 6.2 to 4.1, has higher field-goal and free-throw percentages, and is a far better three-point shooter. And that’s just on the offensive end. Leonard is also known for his lockdown defense and his ability to defend four positions on the court.

In terms of the Raptors’ title hopes, welcoming Leonard makes them second favorites to win the Eastern Conference, just behind the youthful Boston Celtics juggernaut. Ogugua ‘OG’ Anunoby will also lessen Leonard’s defensive workload, hopefully spurring his offensive talents. Having LeBron in Los Angeles certainly helps as well.

I don’t believe Leonard will stay in Toronto beyond this season. However, having only played nine games out of a possible 82 in 201718, and never having played more than 74 games in a season, Leonard has a lot to prove. As Isaiah Thomas found out this season, talented players who are injury-prone don’t always command max contracts.

Leonard needs to use this season to reaffirm his love for basketball, or he may end up as just another “could’ve been great” story.

— Kevin Kapenda

If there were any doubts about Masai Ujiri’s culture reset, they were put to rest by the Leonard-DeRozan trade.

Ujiri made his promise in 2017 after LeBron eliminated the Raptors for the second consecutive season. The reset, which led to a much-improved playstyle, was supposed to help the Raptors overcome LeBron in the playoffs and make them champions, or, at least, contenders. Only, it didn’t.

LeBron once again swept the Raptors in 2018, which culminated in Masai’s decision to trade DeRozan.

While controversial, this gamble was a no-brainer for Toronto. Leonard is better than DeRozan in virtually all facets of the game. Leonard’s strengths also pair well with Toronto’s revamped system, further complementing the team in ways that DeRozan strengths couldn’t.

All signs point to Leonard being the X-factor that will push the Raptors over their playoffs hump. Despite last season’s embarrassment, the addition of Leonard to the team helps the Raptors retain their status as true title contenders, at least on paper.

— Long Vuong

It is safe to say that the Toronto Raptors are having one of the biggest offseason trades in franchise history. However, this trade poses more questions than answers. Nonetheless, there are three key takeaways we can pull out of this:

  • It may very well be a one-year rental.

Leonard’s expiring contract has many questioning if he will leave after this season. The superstar has made it clear that he wants to play in Los Angeles, however, like Oklahoma City Thunder did with fellow California native Paul George, the Raptors are hoping they can convince Leonard to sign a long-term deal.

  • He will play.

Of course, the first question Raptors fans are asking is if Leonard will play. After initially showing no interest in being here, Leonard has reportedly begun to “warm to the idea” of playing in the North. Even if he still shows no desire to be a Raptor, he would only be hurting himself  should he sit out in free agency.

  • On paper, this is a giant upgrade.

Assuming Leonard plays, this is an unquestionable upgrade for the Raptors. As great of a player as DeMar DeRozan is in the regular season, he infamously shrinks come playoff time. Leonard, when healthy, is the best two-way player in the world with MVP talent. In terms of personnel, the Raptors clearly won the trade.

Love the trade or hate it, no one can deny Masai Ujiri’s commitment to his promise of a “culture reset.”

— Yehia Mahdi

It’s been a tough week for Raptors fans since the news broke that the team parted ways with DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan is a four-time all-star and the Raptors’ franchise leader in total points scored, games played, and minutes played, but his impact as a Raptor exceeds statistics as he has been the heart of the team since Chris Bosh’s departure.

Raptors fans are eternally grateful to DeRozan for this and it hurts to lose him, but after five consecutive years of playoff disappointments, something needed to change.

This trade is impactful because, by acquiring arguably the best two-way player in the NBA for a top-15 NBA talent at best, the Raptors are able to retain a competitive core while gaining a better centerpiece.

Leonard’s athleticism, defense, and unselfish play meshes well with the Raptors culture, which allows us to compete with Eastern Conference juggernauts, such as the Celtics, and offers valuable playoff experience to our young team.

Some fans fear that Leonard will merely be a rental because his contract expires next season, but this experiment is low-risk, as the Raptors will either  retain a star or gain the cap space to pursue another. Losing DeRozan is gut-wrenching, but it is a necessary decision in the pursuit of a championship.

— Tushar Sharma

Every avid Raptors fan has heard of the trade that happened Wednesday morning. What they need to know is that this trade will only be beneficial if Kawhi Leonard is able to be the superstar that this team needs.

DeRozan professed his loyalty to this city in the finale of Open Gyms’ sixth season. He “always wanted to give Toronto [a championship]; they deserve it” because he “look[s] at Toronto like a second home” and this city has accepted him as one of our own.

After consistently underperforming in the playoffs, despite their regular season success, it was clear that the team’s core needed a change. Hopefully, Leonard will provide that on both offensive and defensive ends of the court.

The loss of Jakob Poeltl also creates a discrepancy in possibly one of the best benches in Raptors history that contributed significantly to the success of the 20172018 Raptors team. CJ Miles commented on the bench, saying that “there weren’t another five guys off the bench that were doing what we did.”

Despite the uncertainty of the upcoming season, as DeRozan once said, “whatever needs to be done to get this opportunity again, we’ve got to do it. We have to trust the next step.”

— Amarra Mohamed