Many of the players on the current Raptors roster weren’t a part of the team during its repeated playoff failures in recent years and won’t have that weight on their shoulders this spring. Plus, the fact that LeBron James is no longer in the Eastern Conference bodes well for a deeper postseason run for Toronto in 2019.
Still, as Sporting News’ Sean Deveney outlines, the Raptors will face a different sort of pressure this year, since their success in the playoffs figures to go a long way toward determining whether Kawhi Leonard sticks with the franchise beyond this season.
“I think the Lakers are out, but the Clippers are the ones who think they have a shot at him if they decide to go that route,” one front office executive told Deveney when asked to handicap Kawhi’s future. “You hear a lot, he still wants to be on the West Coast. But give that group in Toronto all the credit in the world. They’re making it a tough decision for him. It might come down to just, ‘All right, how did the playoffs go, and how far are we from a championship?'”
In an effort to make Leonard more comfortable in Toronto this season, the Raptors have carefully managed his workload, holding him out of the lineup once every week or two to make sure he’ll be at 100% by the time the postseason rolls around. So far, it’s working — the Raptors hold the No. 2 seed in the East, Leonard is fully healthy after missing all but nine games a year ago, and the star forward sounds pleased with how the plan has played out.
“We’ve been doing a great job of making sure that nothing flares up or gets out of control,” Leonard said this week, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). “It’s just been great. I’m just happy that I’m able to play… It’s amazing. I feel good and we have something to look forward to.”
Here’s more from around the Atlantic:
- Within his look at several contenders for the 2019 NBA championship, Sam Amick of The Athletic writes that a source close to Tobias Harris has “raved” about Sixers general manager Elton Brand. While that doesn’t guarantee that Harris will re-sign with Philadelphia in free agency, it’s certainly a positive sign, Amick notes.
- During a Tuesday radio appearance, Knicks owner James Dolan strongly hinted that the club has heard from certain players and/or agents, and suggested that he believes the Knicks will have a “very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” While those comments raised some eyebrows, a lawyer familiar with the NBA’s tampering policy tells Marc Berman of The New York Post that Dolan worded them carefully enough to avoid running afoul of the league’s policy. “If an agent walks up to [president] Steve Mills and says, ‘Clear cap space, player X wants to come,’ and Steve doesn’t engage, then it’s not tampering,” the lawyer said. “It appeared Dolan was pretty careful to make it seem like that was the deal.”
- Count former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers among those who isn’t ready to place the blame on Brad Stevens for Boston’s struggles this season. In fact, Rivers still has full confidence in the C’s despite their up-and-down year. “They’re going to be fine,” the Clippers’ coach said, per Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. “They are as good as anybody in the East and as talented as anybody in the NBA. And when the playoffs start, I think everybody will see that.”