For NBA teams, trafficking in superstars is a two-part process — acquisition, then retention — and it’s that latter stage that presents the greatest challenge. Any front office with the requisite assets can trade for a superstar, but only one skilled at the art of persuasion can keep him. Upon winning the NBA championship Thursday night, the Raptors will soon shift their attention to the retention project they’ve been planning for nearly a year — signing Leonard to a long-term contract in free agency to remain in Toronto.
How do you sell someone not easily sold? How do you sculpt a pitch about external factors when the target of that pitch is someone so internally focused? What can you really offer that other leading NBA organizations can’t? How can the Raptors compensate for their geographic disadvantage to a team like the LA Clippers in recruiting a Southern Californian whose preference for temperate climes is well known?
Read Kevin Arnovitz on the Raptors’ next step
Hutson, now the head coach at Fresno State, would regularly get in his car and drive the roughly 100 miles north from San Diego to Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California, to see Leonard practice and play.
Eventually, as Leonard’s star began to rise — he was named California’s Mr. Basketball after his senior season — major conference schools began calling.
“I think he thought we were sincere in what we were saying and how we were behaving,” Hutson said.
“It’s very simple. He wants to win basketball games, and work hard. He’s a loyal guy, and I think that was important to him that we were sincere.”
Read Tim Bontemps’ Kawhi Leonard profile here
“When I first got traded here I didn’t really know what to expect,” Lowry said Saturday. “I thought I would be here a couple years, and be out of here.”
Instead, he came and never left. Now Toronto finds itself three wins away from its first championship in franchise history. And while much of the praise has gone to former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and breakout star Pascal Siakam, it has been Lowry who, behind the scenes, has been driving Toronto to heights it has never reached before.
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