Currently the 24th-best men‚Äôs singles player in the world, and the top Canadian among that crop, it‚Äôs fair to assume Ontario‚Äôs Milos Raonic has his hands full keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of his own sport. But that hasn‚Äôt stopped him from leaving one eye trained on the one he grew up watching, and his beloved Toronto Raptors‚Äė bevy of off-season changes.
It‚Äôs been a hectic summer for the franchise. But Raonic ‚ÄĒ who knows a thing or two about carrying that national mantle at the highest level ‚ÄĒ believes his hometown team did what was necessary to find progress when they traded away franchise icon DeMar DeRozan to land the unquestionably elite Kawhi Leonard.
‚ÄúWe had to go get Kawhi,‚ÄĚ he told The New York Times‚Äė Marc Stein at the U.S. Open recently when asked about the high-profile swap. ‚ÄúIn Toronto, we‚Äôve never had a Finals MVP. We could never get past LeBron and the Cavs.
‚ÄúWe were stagnant. I think something big needed to happen, because we probably weren‚Äôt going to go any farther.‚ÄĚ
There‚Äôs no question the 27-year-old‚Äôs sentiment is felt by the majority of the Raptors faithful, at least when it comes to the need to find a way to break through the playoff wall.
Something had to give, according to the former Wimbledon finalist, as finding playoff improvement has become the only thing Toronto‚Äôs fanbase is looking for at this point.
‚ÄúAs a Raptors fan, who cares about the regular season?‚ÄĚ Raonic told Stein. ‚ÄúIf they won 60 games next season ‚ÄĒ if they won 65 games ‚ÄĒ no one would care unless they did well in the playoffs.‚ÄĚ
Though Raonic seems to be on board with the move, he said he wasn‚Äôt thrilled about how the deal came together, particularly in terms of how the Raptors treated one of the best to ever don their colours.
But the prize at the end of the line helps quell those issues.
‚ÄúOther than the way DeRozan was made to feel about it ‚ÄĒ because I think he‚Äôs been our best franchise player to this point ‚ÄĒ I was extremely excited about it.‚ÄĚ
With good reason. While significant questions remain regarding what happens after the 2018-19 season, the Raptors and their fans are seemingly set to see one year of Leonard either way, health permitting ‚ÄĒ something the 2014 Spurs, whom Leonard led to a Larry O‚ÄôBrien Trophy with an MVP-clinching performance, know is no small prize.
Raonic said he has faith in his home province winning over the Los Angeles native and keeping him in the fold past next season, especially once Leonard sees the potential benefits of playing for a franchise that has a stranglehold on an entire country‚Äôs basketball fandom ‚ÄĒ ‚Äúif he wants that big shoe deal, Toronto is that kind of market‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ but, even if things don‚Äôt pan out, it appears he‚Äôs fine with Masai Ujiri and Co. rolling the dice.
Asked how angry he‚Äôll be if Leonard bolts as a free agent after the 2018-19 campaign ‚ÄĒ now the leading fear among Canadian basketball fans ‚ÄĒ Raonic‚Äôs answer was simple.
‚ÄúI won‚Äôt be ‚ÄĒ but I think he‚Äôs going to stay.‚ÄĚ