Raptors News

Late-night Kawhi Leonard notes and social media round up

A few quick hitters.

A few notes have trickled down over the course of the day that weren’t worth their own posts, so here’s a quick roundup.

Leonard warming on Toronto?

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Sportscentre tonight, league sources indicate that Kawhi Leonard has begun warming to the idea of Toronto.

He does not have much choice, of course. Masai Ujiri has been in contact with Leonard, and while Leonard’s camp put up a strong front before the trade, he’s now in a position where it’s in his best interest to report and find a fit for the time being. Were Leonard to refuse to report, the Raptors could begin fining him for up to the entire amount of his contract, and there is language in the CBA that would put Leonard in peril of losing his unrestricted free agent status if he held out all year.

Regardless, the sell job from Ujiri and company has begun in earnest, to convince Leonard to play ball not only now but perhaps down the line. Initial conversations have been positive, according to Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, and the earlier talk that Leonard had no interest in playing in Toronto was quieted down. Brian Windhorst had reported on the radio earlier that no physical had been completed yet, but it seems likely the Raptors and Leonard’s camp can work towards a resolution soon, perhaps with a press conference coming later this week.

Cash heads to Toronto

Zach Lowe notes that the Spurs are also sending $5 million to the Raptors in the deal, which will help off-set some of the cost of Leonard’s trade kicker. The Spurs are responsible for paying Leonard’s kicker but it counts against the Raptors’ team salary for cap and tax purposes, and the net effect of the trade bumped Toronto’s tax bill by $7.4 million based on my estimates, barring further cost-cutting moves. Getting almost the maximum allowable cash from the Spurs to help cover some of that cost should the Raptors remain deep into the tax and maybe even if they want to continue to add, though they’re already projected well into the luxury tax as is with 13 players under contract.

Raptors title odds improve

Not that it means much in the current Golden State Warriors landscape, but the Raptors’ NBA title odds shifted from 60-to-1 to 18-to-1 today, a significant move that gives them the sixth-best odds in the league. I’d expect that line to move further tomorrow, as the conference and division lines were very slow to react to today’s news.

Xavier Thames

I have no idea if this is even worth posting, and I never thought Xavier Thames would come back into our lives, but here goes. Back in 2014, the Toronto Raptors selected Thames with the 59th pick in the draft, immediately selling him to the Brooklyn Nets. On Wednesday, I caught word that he’d arrived in Toronto on a flight, and I began trying to piece things together.

Thames, you might recall, was red-shirting at San Diego State when Kawhi Leonard was there in 2010-11. Both are also from California and are only a few months apart in age, likely meaning they spent time playing against each other before landing at SDSU. In the pre-draft process in 2014, Thames mentioned that he spoke with Leonard leading up to the draft, calling him “one of my good friends” and joking “We both kind of have the same personality but he’s way more quieter than me. He barely talks.” That a friend of Leonard’s has shown up in the city is at least interesting.

Despite never cracking the NBA, Thames has carved out a solid career as a pro. He’s spent time in Spain, Macedonia, Israel, Greece, and New Zealand, adding a Macedonian championship to the Mountain West Player of the Year on his trophy shelf. Last year, Thames averaged 13.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 steals over 42 games, and while he didn’t shoot very efficiently – he’s never been a high-percentage scorer from anywhere on the floor – his ability to defend and get to the free throw line made him a valuable piece. In between those stops, Thames has also played 66 G League games across parts of two seasons, averaging 8.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and one steal with a 50.9-percent true-shooting mark. He was last there in 2015-16 with Fort Wayne, who still hold his rights.

A 6-foot-3 guard with good lateral quickness and a nose for the ball, Thames projected as a potential defensive plus in the NBA but never quite rounded out his offensive game enough as a lead guard or off-ball threat to really get back on the radar, though he did appear in Summer League twice.

This is likely nothing. Maybe Leonard wants a friend around for the transition, or maybe bringing Thames into the Raptors 905 fold could be a move down the line, though sources indicate that’s not currently in the plans. Maybe Thames is just coming through for Crown League on Friday. In any case, I thought I should pass it along, as Leonard has very few known associates and one of them just arrived in the city.

Perhaps more interesting here is that the pick used on Thames had been a part of the return from the Andrea Bargnani along with Jakob Poeltl, who was a key piece of the Leonard deal. All things are connected.

Players say their goodbyes

It’s been an emotional day on Raptors social media. Here are some of the goodbyes from players:

Content wrap-up

More to come tomorrow.

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