The Toronto Raptors' bold bet to trade for Kawhi Leonard on an expiring contract has worked out well so far this season. Two months into the 2018-19 campaign, the Raptors are 23-9 and own the best record in the league. At this point, they're certainly one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference -- something the franchise has never done.
While having the chance to be a great team this season was one of the Raptors' main reasons for making the trade, the ability to pitch Kawhi Leonard on staying in Toronto long-term was just as important. Of course, any sort of decision from Leonard is still months away, and will likely depend at least partly on how the team performs in the postseason.
Nick Nurse and the Raptors will have another opportunity to show Leonard why they are the best fit for him in a basketball sense on Wednesday night when they host the Indiana Pacers (7:30 p.m. ET -- Watch on FuboTV with the NBA League Pass extension).
However, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski, no matter how well the Raptors play, they're always going to face strong competition because they aren't Los Angeles. During his television special with Zach Lowe, Wojnarowski said that playing back home has been a "focus" for Leonard. As transcribed by Real GM:
"They can't change the geography. They can't change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this," said Adrian Wojnarowski. "Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this."
Even with how well the Raptors have played, this isn't much of a surprise at all. Throughout this offseason, when trade rumors were rampant, we heard often that Leonard's preference was to play for one of the Los Angeles teams -- either the Lakers or Clippers. Neither swung a deal, but that was in part because they can each chase him in the summer of 2019. After the trade happened a few months ago, we still heard that Leonard's first choice was to play in Los Angeles next season.
This is just an unfortunate reality for the Raptors. Other cities are almost always going to be more enticing -- especially when it comes to Leonard, who is actually from Los Angeles. But this factor is one of the main reasons why they made the deal. In free agency, there's almost no chance that Leonard would have seriously considered the Raptors. But now, they have the entire season to show him first hand while he should stay. It may not work, but at least this way they have a shot.