By Cole Parkinson
Kawhi Leonard was a Toronto Raptor.
But a little less than a year later after being traded from the San Antonio Spurs he chose to go home to L.A. to be with the Clippers organization.
Waking up to the news on an early Saturday, it was hard not to be disappointed that Kawhi wouldn’t run it back with the Raps and see if they could once again win another Larry O’ B. While it wasn’t shocking at all that he took the road home to California, there still was a part of me that thought he really would come back.
The Raps gave Kawhi everything he asked for.
Load management, a great medical staff, great coaching and a championship winning roster that actually pulled off bringing the hardware north of the border for the first time ever.
Since the parade and further after Kawhi signing with the Clips, I have been fascinated with how the Raptors move forward and especially what they do with the number 2.
So while Kawhi was instrumental in making the Raptors the best team in the NBA, let’s stop with this talk that he did it all himself. Over those six games he only shot 43 per cent from the field and 15 of 42 from the three-point line. Without Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, the Raps don’t win that series.
This isn’t a takedown of Kawhi either, it’s simply a response to this view that the Raps owe everything to Kawhi for bringing them a championship, which is really ridiculous.
The relationship was beneficial for both. Kawhi didn’t trust the Spurs organization when he was shipped out and that trust was rebuilt in Toronto which helped the team succeed in winning the ultimate prize. Kawhi truly did have a great season with the Raps, and for my money the best individual season ever in Toronto.
Over 60 regular season games with the Raptors, Kawhi was 49.6 per cent from the field and poured in 26.6 points per game while also going 85.4 per cent from the line.
Pretty good for a guy who only played nine games the year before. The real reason though why fans loved Kawhi and were desperate for him to stay was due to his playoff play.
After years and years of disappointment in the playoffs, this team finally broke through the East and was able to overthrow the Warriors dynasty. In 24 playoff games, he had a total of 732 points and shot 49 per cent in the field which was obviously enough to win the playoff MVP. So Kawhi puts forth the best individual season ever in a Raptors uniform and then walks away.
Now there is no arguing that he is the best player to ever put on a Raps jersey but he isn’t the best Raptor of all time. In fact, I’d argue that guy is still in Toronto this very moment.
Sure, Vince Carter gets a lot of love in best of all time discussions, he also wanted out at the first moment he could.
DeMar DeRozan would be the other guy I’d look at for talking about first jersey retirement but Kyle Lowry has been the motor of this team for the better part of seven years and now with him winning a championship, I think he is the man who should get the honour. Could I be wrong? For sure.
There is already talk about the number 2 being off limits for players next year which all but signals a retirement of Kawhi’s old digs. But with weeks passing since Leonard took to the Clippers, I’m at the point where my thinking is why should a guy who left be looked at as this all-time Raptor? When Vince left he was crucified for years and years and just only recently was again recognized as a Raps great.
Circumstances here are different and I know that, a championship changes everything. Still, for me anyways, Kawhi is now just another player on a team I don’t like. The memories will always be there and I’ll never forget the Game 7 shot against the 76ers for the rest of my life but at this point it feels like years ago. Now if Kawhi had been here for multiple years my feelings would be different but one year and done just makes me want the team to together especially with the end result.
So while I couldn’t wait to watch him play every game last year, next year will be a different story.
I’ll admit it, I’ll be rooting against the Clippers next year. Not that it’s really any different from prior years because I really only cheer for the Raptors but it will mean a little more next year. Not that I wish anything bad against Kawhi but I won’t be cheering for him or the Clippers.
The Raptors on the other hand have an interesting year ahead of them as they go forward trying to defend their championship. Kyle, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol all have one year left on their deals and could easily be moved if Masai wants to hit the rebuild button as early as next year. I don’t think that’s what will happen because they’re a playoff team with what they have right now.
The good news is they have some good pieces that can help the team beyond next year in Siakam, FVV, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell. While I like the chances of the Raps being in the playoffs next year, it is hard to see them being a serious contender unless Masai works some serious magic. Milwaukee, Philly, Brooklyn and Boston are all great teams and will probably be the favourites for making it out of the East.
The Raptors roster is bound to look leaps and bounds different in the next few years but if Masai is at the wheel, it’s hard to not to feel confident in what’s to come.