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SportsBruce Arthur: Raptors hope Kawhi sticks around for parade after-party

07:29  17 june  2019
07:29  17 june  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Bruce Arthur: There’s no way the Raptors get this far without DeMar OAKLAND—Under the championship banners in the crumbling old doomed arena, the Toronto Raptors got ready to play. Oracle Arena is located off a highway in one of California’s dry faded patches of nowhere, and it’s the centre of the NBA universe. 

Bruce Arthur: Raptors hope Kawhi sticks around for parade after-party© Jennifer Pottheiser After one triumphant season with the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard can write his own ticket on the free-agent market. His decision will be the key to many more.

They were all so happy, even while describing the mixed emotions that came with a championship. Marc Gasol described the other part of his emotions as being almost mad, but that wasn’t quite it. Fred VanVleet called it something else; he said that amid the sea of joy there was a strange and uncomfortable truncation of what you need to push you this hard, this high. Maybe that was it.

“It’s weird because we always need something to chase, we need something to aspire to, to be better, and so it’s hard to be content,” said VanVleet, the zipper under his right eye healing, that missing front tooth still gone. “It’s hard to, like — I kept looking around like, all right, what do we do now? What’s next?”

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The Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship on Thursday night in Oakland, and by Sunday most of them were back in Toronto after a party in Vegas, and for the hardiest — Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, at least — another one Saturday in Los Angeles. Those who were back tried to describe the joy, but you could practically see it in them, hidden behind fatigue and perhaps dehydration, glowing.

As for what’s next, it’s simple. Monday will be the parade, and a staggering flowering of collective joy. And after that, it’s the biggest free agent in the world. It’s Kawhi.

“Kawhi impacts the team and the franchise in so many different ways that I’m sure it’ll have something to do with it,” said Gasol, when asked if he would opt into the final year of his contract and stay in Toronto after being traded here at the deadline. “Because I don’t think there’s many players of — let me say that again. I don’t think there’s any other player of his calibre right now in the NBA. I think he’s on a pedestal by himself. Age-wise, his game, his leadership, the way he carries himself. I haven’t been around all of them, but I’ll tell you he’s one of a kind.”

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Bruce Arthur: Warriors take — and make — their best shots to edge Raptors and extend series Bruce Arthur: Warriors take — and make — their best shots to edge Raptors and extend series

“I’d be foolish (to not say) it doesn’t impact a lot of guys’ decisions,” said guard Danny Green, who like Kawhi is a free agent. “Because he can change a whole organization. He can change a whole team. He can change a lot of guys’ careers, or make a lot of guys’ careers easier. So that decision weighs on, I think, a lot of guys’ free agency decisions.”

That’s what’s at stake: the man that Kyle Lowry called the best two-way player in the league, that team president Masai Ujiri calls the best player in the world, the man who was the Finals MVP after averaging 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks in the six-game victory over the Golden State Warriors. Kawhi was the guy who hit the shot in Game 4 in Philly, and The Shot in Game 7 in Toronto, and who laid waste to Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee. The king, in the north.

But he can leave if he wants. It could happen. Lowry’s approach with Kawhi will be the same as was his approach to his good friend DeMar DeRozan: He won’t call, text, cajole, plead. Same with VanVleet. Same with all of them. Everyone follows Kawhi. They’ve been in awe of him all along.

Fake Kawhi Leonard & 'Plant Guy' Copycat Spotted At The Raptors Parade In Toronto (VIDEOS)

Fake Kawhi Leonard & 'Plant Guy' Copycat Spotted At The Raptors Parade In Toronto (VIDEOS) Multiple copycats were spotted this morning before the parade.

“He has everything in his game,” said forward Pascal Siakam, who finished averaging 19.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists on .505 shooting in the Finals. “He can do everything. He can score in the post. He can shoot threes, mid-range, and he can guard everybody. That’s a perfect kind of player if you want to be somebody in this league. To be able to defend, and (it’s an example) for me (to get) to that level where I can do whatever I want out there on the floor.”

Siakam mentioned one of the promos to keep Kawhi, the free meals, and added, “I even heard that he got a house or somebody gave him a house or something like that. Where’s my house at?” Siakam went to say what his pitch would be.

“The experience that we had, winning a championship. Once you win a championship, the next thing you want to do is do it again … Obviously, having him has been a great experience for me, learning from him. Definitely want him back. At the same time, me as a player, all I can do is support him in whatever he wants to do, obviously. Hopefully he can come back. I’m gonna let Kawhi do what Kawhi does.”

They won a title. This team lived up to the example and leadership of its one-year superstar: as Gasol said, they approached every tough moment brilliantly. Coach Nick Nurse said of Lowry that he has never seen a player play harder. Siakam’s ceiling is sky-high.

Raptors fans take their best shot at selling Kawhi on repeat performance

Raptors fans take their best shot at selling Kawhi on repeat performance Raptors fans looking to make an extra buck by selling glossy copies of this year’s roster during Monday’s championship parade tried to tug on potential buyers’ heartstrings with their sales pitch. “The team could be different next year,” they shouted to passers-by in an attempt to boost sales. The crowd didn’t really need to be reminded that the team, which won the city’s first NBA championship last week, could change dramatically when free agency begins less than two weeks from now. That’s when Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard will be free to choose his own path, one that Raptors fans hope will lead back to Toronto rather than, say, Los Angeles.

But now, like many teams, the Raptors are at Kawhi’s mercy. VanVleet, characteristically, summed it up.

“For us, at least speaking for myself, there’s nothing more that we can do,” said VanVleet. “We’ve done it, the city’s done it, the franchise has done it, the coaches have done it, the teammates have done it. We’ve done our job. The best way to recruit somebody is to be yourself over the course of the year, and I would assume that he knows what is here and what makes this place special.

“And if it’s enough it will be enough and if it’s not, it’s not. We all love him and we would all love for him to be back, and if he’s not we’ll move on from there. So it’s not the biggest deal in the world. He came and did what he was supposed to do. He came here and brought this city a championship, and I think he’s earned his freedom in 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.”

That’s where they’re at. Everyone should enjoy the parade, and treat it — safely — like the chance of a lifetime. Because after that comes the future, and there are no guarantees.

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

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