Just Sayin’ ... An Editorial Comment

The Top 10 Potential Reasons Kawhi Leonard left Toronto

By Kirk Winter

Like thousands of other Toronto Raptor fans, I was shocked when Kawhi Leonard announced on July 6 that he was leaving Toronto after only one year to join the mediocre Los Angeles Clippers for the next four seasons.

            Leonard, in only one season in Toronto, was instrumental in bringing an NBA league championship to Canada for the first time. Leonard was named league playoff MVP, and is clearly the best player to ever pull on a Raptor jersey in the team’s almost 30-year history.

            Because of the arcane signing rules found in the NBA collective agreement, Toronto had the upper hand and could have signed Leonard for five years and $192 million, while the Clippers could only offer four years and $142 million.  Regardless of where he was going to sign, Kawhi was going to be handsomely rewarded.

            Kawhi left $50 million on the table and bolted to Los Angeles. Many fans are asking why? In a purely unscientific Top 10, I will share with you the reasons Kawhi and many other American-born Raptors have left the organization and signed with American based teams. Try not to laugh at some of these reasons. I am not making them up!

Reason Ten – Bagged milk

            Numerous Raptors and their spouses have struggled with bagged milk. One Raptor spouse told management that they were not re-signing unless milk in cartons could be provided. The individual was informed that the bag actually goes in a plastic jug for pouring, something she was blissfully unaware of, and that problem was temporarily solved. Danny Green, who left the Raptors to join the Los Angeles Lakers, openly groused about milk bags this season wondering “what was up with that.” Bagged milk is a reminder for American-born players that they are playing in a foreign country and they don’t like that.

Reason nine – Metric system

            Whether they are driving or buying ground beef, the metric system continues to baffle a number of former and current Raptors. Their spouses complain about shopping in Canadian supermarkets, and older players with school-aged children fear that an exposure to metric in the school system will hamper their children’s re-integration to schools in American once their time in Toronto is done.

Reason eight – French in school

            What makes sense for kids planning to live their lives in Canada does not necessarily make sense for kids who will spend the bulk of their time living in the United States. Kawhi’s daughters will soon be in school and American parents have a comfort level with American schools. Many American players who play in Europe or Asia pay steep tuition fees to enrol their children in the private “American schools” system originally designed for the children of diplomats and Fortune 500 company executives. Regardless of where the player plays, his children are in lock step with the requirements for high school graduation in the United States.

Reason seven – Americans don’t get out enough

            Most American players consider Toronto a stepping stone or hardship posting that they will leave as soon as they can. Think Chris Bosh, Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter. A university professor I once had said that the only countries Americans know anything about are the ones their county has invaded. Since we have been at peace with the United States since 1814, American players know shockingly little about Canada. Many European players who have come to Toronto rave about its world-class qualities and cosmopolitan culture.

Reason six – Travel

            Because we are a separate nation, travel to and from Toronto is complicated. Forty-two times a year players are subjected to customs searches, and many former Raptors have talked about the punishing travel schedule they experienced flying out of Toronto. Some have said that travel was one of the primary reasons that the Seattle and Vancouver franchises were not successful in signing and re-signing players who discovered that playing in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago or New York made road trips much less punitive.

Reason five – Toronto is not an “A” list city for Americans

            When a young American grows up thinking about a career in the NBA there are cities that they naturally gravitate towards including Miami, Dallas, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. These are the media and sporting capitals of the United States. They are places to see and be seen. Toronto ranks with Utah, Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City as sporting backwaters that need to be left at the first possible opportunity. Look at free agency this year and look at the number of stars who forced trades or fled via free agency from these less than pleasing NBA destinations.

Reason four – Weather

            While I personally love Canada’s four distinct seasons, most American-born players do not. Kawhi hated our winter. The departed Danny Green and teammate Jeremy Lin complained about having to wear boots while living in Toronto. If you grew up in Orlando, San Antonio or Los Angeles, Toronto is about as attractive as Siberia when thinking about where you want to live long term. Kawhi has moved back to his native Los Angeles where the top on his car is down, the pool is always open and 18 holes is a year-round experience. Ever noticed how many of the American players like Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, who thrive in Toronto, are from the American northwest where they are quite familiar with snow?

Reason three – Taxes

            While I happen to think that our quality of life is worth paying for, many foreign-born athletes do not. If you are an American-born NBA player you can play in Florida or Texas which have no state taxes. While Kawhi has returned to the most heavily taxed state in America, he no longer needs the battery of tax lawyers to prepare his taxes for income that is earned outside of the country. For a man earning his income, the Donald Trump 2017 tax cuts will save Leonard millions. When the bottom line is about keeping the money that you earn, dealing with one set of tax rules and regulations is much easier for the player and his family.

Reason two – family

            It is very clear to observers that Kawhi is devoted to his extended California based family. His girlfriend, children, mom, uncle and cousins, with whom he spends an inordinate amount of time, are all Los Angeles based. None came north this year until playoff time, and all on the Raptor dime. The Raptors tried to lessen Kawhi’s homesickness by hiring one of his cousins as team strength and conditioning coach, but obviously that was not enough. Los Angeles is home, and we will see how the painfully shy Leonard survives the glare of the media scrutiny he will surely be under with the Clippers.

Reason one – Television exposure/endorsements

            Players want friends and family to watch them play. If you play in the United States you regularly appear on nationally televised games. Very seldom do the American networks venture to Toronto to cover games, and when they do it is typically because the Raptor’s opponent that night is incredibly newsworthy. Raptor players treasure these opportunities to been seen at home and now, as a Clippe,r Kawhi will be seen dozens of times starting next season.

            The $50 million that Kawhi left on the table by rejecting the Raptor’s offer will be made back many times over in endorsements for shoes, cars, cologne or men’s fashion now that Leonard will be the toast, along with Lebron James, of America’s second biggest media market, Los Angeles. Players claim Kawhi is a fun guy. A smart marketer will play on that trait and Kawhi will see the money roll in.

            There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the potential reasons Kawhi has taken his basketball and gone home to Los Angeles. If there is a silver lining on this sad day for Raptor fans it is that Leonard also spurned Lebron James and the Lakers. Lebron is going to be furious because no one says no to King James. Kawhi Leonard, the riddle wrapped in an enigma, just did.