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There's always so much going on in Northeast Ohio sports, much more than what can fit in our regular Wednesday conversations with Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer Terry Pluto. Consider it overtime or extra innings.  This is the place to check out Amanda Rabinowitz's ongoing conversations with Terry that are just too good to miss!

The View Beyond Pluto: Toronto's Big Gamble with Kawhi Leonard

Photo of Kawhi Leonard.
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard.

The Toronto Raptors are making their first ever NBA Finals appearance against the Golden State Warriors. The series is tied 1-1 as of Tuesday. Our sports commentator Terry Pluto says the Raptors took a big gamble and made some sacrifices that ended up paying off. 

Trading a fan favorite 
The Raptors made some big moves last season. First, they fired "NBA Coach of the Year" Dwayne Casey after they were swept out of the playoffs by LeBron James and the Cavs. Then, they traded one of their best and most popular players, DeMar DeRozan, for San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard

Leonard was nearing the end of his contract with the Spurs and barely played last season. He was butting heads with the front office, claiming the team wasn't properly handling his quad injury. But Toronto was desperate for a change and took a risk in bringing Leonard on board. 

"I mean he's coming off of a nine game season and actually he missed 22 games of (this) regular season," Pluto says. "They benched him a lot to take care of the injuries, but come the playoffs, he's taken that team on his back and carry them now into the finals. How many ways could this have gone wrong?"

An uncertain future with Kawhi
Leonard becomes a free agent after the NBA Finals. Pluto says it's possible he could return to his hometown of L.A. and sign with either the Lakers or the Clippers. But Pluto says Leonard's history with injuries could be a good reason stay in Toronto. 

"... He's taken that team on his back and carry them now into the finals."

"The NBA, the way it's set up with the salary cap as a Toronto can offer him more money than anyone else ... You're talking about $50 million over the life of the contract more than anyone else," Pluto says.

Rooting for a good fan base
Pluto says he's cheering for Toronto. Not only did the team make a big gamble that paid off, he's happy for the fans.  

"I've covered games up there. Their fans are just unbelievable. They've loved Raptors when they're bad. They'll love them when they're good," Pluto says. 

And, Pluto says the big question is: Could Leonard actually leave if the team wins a title? 

Game 3 of the NBA Finals is Wednesday night. 

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.