Kawhi Leonard wanted to know one thing. Two days after the San Antonio Spurs met his trade demand last July, following a bizarre, season-long stalemate with the organization and its training staff, Leonard showed up at the Toronto Raptors’ practice facility, scraggly beard and all, and got directly to the point with team president Masai Ujiri: Why did you trade for me? “Because you’re the best player in the league,” Ujiri told him in that initial meeting.
And in going for it, he exorcised a quarter-century of demons from a long-suffering, always-loyal fan base, one of the NBA’s best. “It’s a hell of a story, man,” VanVleet said after the Raptors’ 100-94 win in which they came back from a 15-point deficit with two minutes left in the third quarter. “What this franchise has been through from its inception, what this city has been through in terms of its basketball growth — it’s a heck of a story to be going to the Finals, to have a chance to win it all.”