Jan 13, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto FC president and CEO of MLSE Tim Leiweke looks on during a press conference as new players Jermain Defoe (not pictured) and Michael Bradley (not pictured) are introduced during a press conference at Real Sports Bar & Grill. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors: Tim Leiweke Rumors A Cause For Concern

Initially I was going to take this opportunity to discuss the signing of Jordan Hamilton to a reported one-year deal that the Toronto Raptors made official earlier this week.

The addition of Hamilton, a 6’7″ forward who spent time with the Nuggets and Rockets last season, now brings the roster to 16 players, one above the limit heading into training camp.

I decided to put that plan on hold, though, when a report surfaced that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke will step down in the near future from the job he has held for just 14 months.

Elliotte Friedman, a Toronto-based reporter, spent the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 19 chasing the story and then took to Twitter to break the news.

Even after Leiweke and MLSE released a statement to the contrary, Friedman stood by his story when he appeared on radio show Prime Time Sports later that day.

In April 2013, Leiweke was hired to oversee all of MLSE’s operations, including the Raptors, Maple Leafs, and Major League Soccer franchise TFC. Leiweke arrived in Toronto as a high-profile executive, having worked for the Anschutz Entertainment Group, a conglomerate that has an ownership stake in the Los Angeles Lakers among other things.

Started from the bottom

Leiweke set out to change the culture of the Raptors and Leafs in particular, two teams that had fallen into a funk of years of losing and long playoff droughts. A brash and bold character, Leiweke acted quickly to replace Bryan Colangelo with Masai Ujiri as the Raptors new general manager.

He also went to great lengths to re-brand the Raptors as a team with the potential to reach out to basketball fans worldwide. Under Leiweke’s guidance, the organization hired Drake as global brand ambassador and, furthermore, he was instrumental in Toronto being chosen as the host city for the 2016 NBA All-Star weekend.

The 57-year-old Leiweke also deserves some credit for the “We The North” advertising campaign launched prior to the Raptors playoff run last season.

On the court, the Raptors performed better than expected in 2013-14, thanks in large part to an early-season shake-up that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento and landed Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and John Salmons in Toronto. From there, the ever-loyal fanbase in Toronto embraced the team’s record-setting season in which the Raptors won 48 games and finished atop the Atlantic Division.

The atmosphere in Toronto during the playoffs was off the charts in terms of fan engagement. The electricity and energy both inside and outside the Air Canada Centre provided a perfect illustration of just how much things had changed with Leiweke at the helm.

May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) during the warm up against the Brooklyn Nets prior to game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre. Brooklyn defeated Toronto 104-103. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

A step in the right direction

Despite a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, Leiweke and the Raptors were able to use this positive momentum as the catalyst for agreeing to terms with three of their own free agents and key contributors in Kyle Lowry and the aforementioned Patterson and Vasquez.

None of this is meant to take anything away from Ujiri, head coach Dwane Casey, or the team’s core of players. With career-high averages of 17.9 points and 7.4 assists, Lowry made himself indispensable at the point guard position and DeMar DeRozan earned his first nod to the All-Star team.

Of course, Leiweke doesn’t score, grab rebounds, or blocks shots, but it’s still easy to see how important he is as the front office leader. I, for one, have noticed a level of confidence in the players and coaching staff that had been absent for over a decade — since the days of Vinsanity.

Maybe this is something that is only important to those of us on the outside, but I doubt it. That new feeling of confidence arrived with Leiweke and it has trickled down to the on-court product and to the fans and media who follow the Raptors on a daily basis.

Not so fast

Quite simply, it is too soon for Leiweke to leave. He doesn’t have to stay forever. I think five years of his time would be a reasonable request.

For the first time in many years, the Raptors are entering a season with legitimately high hopes, lofty expectations, and a new-found sense of stability. Just for once it would be nice if there could be something constant other than change.

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Tags: Tim Leiweke Toronto Raptors

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