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Toronto Raptors success next season all depends on keeping Kawhi Leonard, says Mike Tuck

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Mike Tuck - @miketuck15

Tuesday 18 June 2019 13:06, UK

Kawhi Leonard celebrates during the Toronto Raptors' victory parade
Image: Kawhi Leonard celebrates during the Toronto Raptors' victory parade

The Raptors' chances of repeating their NBA title success next season depend on the team's ability to keep Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, says BBL legend and Toronto fan Mike Tuck.

Leonard put together a superb individual postseason campaign, scoring the third-most total points in NBA playoff history and leading the Raptors to their maiden NBA championship with a 4-2 series victory over the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.

Sky Sports NBA analyst Tuck was born and raised in Toronto and describes himself as a 'day one' Raptors fan. In the aftermath of their famous Finals triumph, we asked him for his reaction to the Raptors' victory and what comes next for the team.

A dream realised

The Toronto Raptors celebrate after beating the Golden State Warriors to win their first NBA championship
Image: The Toronto Raptors celebrate after beating the Golden State Warriors to win their first NBA championship

Watching the Toronto Raptors, a team I've supported since their introduction to the NBA in 1995, was one of those surreal moments.

We've been through so many years of pain and torture! It was one of those things you thought would never happen.

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Then, all of a sudden, the Raptors slide through the first round, they slide through the second round and then get to the Finals where everyone is betting against them. Then they go up by one game, two games and then finally get the win!

The turnover Danny Green made with 10 seconds to go in Game 6 was nerve-wracking in the extreme! The chance was right there to put the series away and then the Raptors gave the Warriors another chance!

More on this story

Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry celebrate during Game 6 of the NBA Finals 5:49
Highlights of Game 6 of the NBA Finals series between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors

When the Warriors had that last possession, and Stephen Curry took that last shot, I 100 per cent expected the Raptors to be punished for that Green turnover and the series would go to a seventh game. But, thankfully, it wasn't Steph's day.

I'm so happy for the club, the players and all the 'day one' fans like myself back in Toronto. This is the pinnacle, what we've been dreaming of all these years and now it's finally right here in front of us.

Can the Raptors repeat?

Kawhi Leonard celebrates at the buzzer as the Toronto Raptors complete a 4-2 series victory over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals
Image: Kawhi Leonard celebrates at the buzzer as the Toronto Raptors complete a 4-2 series victory over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals

Repeating this year's success next season all depends on Kawhi Leonard. They have Kawhi and Marc Gasol on player options and Danny Green is an unrestricted free agent. After that, everybody else is locked down.

To me, this is the perfect time for Kawhi to come back. He's already cemented his reputation in Toronto and Canada as a whole. He's just won a championship. I think it would be foolish for him to go somewhere else and try to start something new from nothing when he has already built something special in Toronto.

Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball on offense against the Golden State Warriors in the second half during Game Four of the 2019 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 07, 2019 in Oakland, California. 3:16
NBA analyst discusses the next moves for Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard and team president Masai Ujiri?

The team have all these guys pretty much guaranteed to come back next season. It's the year after next where you'll the Raptors guys thinking about making moves for bigger contracts.

Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, these are guys who are not getting any younger. If the Raptors are going to make another run at the championship, it's probably going to have to be next season.

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I think it would be silly for Kawhi to run off somewhere, to go back to California to play just because he grew up there. Rather than sign a five-year deal, the best bet for him will be to sign a three-year deal (for $106m) with a player option after the second year. So that would bring him back for next season and, in the season after that, if he really isn't feeling it, then he could make the move.

Bring back Green and Gasol?

Stephen Curry lofts a lay-up over Marc Gasol in Game 6
Image: Stephen Curry lofts a lay-up over Marc Gasol in Game 6

Marc Gasol would be a dream to play with as he is always looking to pass the ball and get his team-mates involved. He is not afraid of big moments. Sometimes he's almost looking to pass the ball too much, giving the ball up and being passive when they need scoring from him. But that's a trait you don't mind too much, it's certainly better than a guy being a 'black hole'.

Bringing back Gasol and Danny Green would be huge for Toronto. Green has all that playoff experience and we saw it on certain nights, if not consistently.

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Gasol, numbers-wise, from when he arrived in Toronto through to the end of the playoffs, his production and that of the team went up just because of his ability to pass the ball, his basketball IQ.

He's a vet, he had all those years in Memphis as the lead player. Now, in a secondary role, he has shown us what he can do when he is surrounded by other great players like Leonard and Lowry.

Biggest threats in the East next season?

Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler in playoff action for the Philadelphia 76ers
Image: Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler in playoff action for the Philadelphia 76ers

I think the Philadelphia 76ers are the biggest threat to Toronto in the East next year. They have size and they have star power. Also, their front office is not afraid to roll the dice. Elton Brand is a 'player's GM', he has a different mindset to most GMs.

I don't think Philly are going to be able to keep Jimmy Butler, if you listen to the rumours going around. Given the number of teams with money to spend this summer, I just don't see Butler staying there.

Joel Embiid milks the adulation of the crowd during the Philadelphia 76ers Game 3 win over the Toronto Raptors 1:12
Joel Embiid posted 33 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 116-95 Game 3 win over the Toronto Raptors

I expect the Milwaukee Bucks to get a lot better as the experience they gained in this year's playoffs will count for a lot next term.

While Philadelphia will struggle to keep this year's core together, they will still have a strong team next season.

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