Sep 18, 2020

Kawhi Leonard Faces the Consequences of Leaving the Toronto Raptors

Omar Abubakar

oming off a historic individual playoff run last season, a finals MVP, a massive championship parade, and an entire country showing an incredible amount of adulation and support, Kawhi Leonard chose to go home to Los Angeles in the summer of 2019. This was totally his right, as he felt that home was the deciding factor, and there was nothing the Raptors organization could do to overcome that. However, now that his LA Clippers suffered one of the most embarrassing playoff losses in NBA history in 7 games to the youthful Denver Nuggets, new reports per Josh Lewenberg has surfaced dating back to the summer of 2019:

"There were obviously other reasons why he chose the Clippers, including and especially his desire to go home, but one of the things Kawhi told the Raptors when he met with them in Toronto last summer, according to a source, was that he didn't think they were good enough to repeat".

Now that both the LA Clippers and the Toronto Raptors have been sent home packing, its pretty clear the Raptors were the better situation. The LA Clippers simply imploded, with the owner Steve Balmer giving the green light to give up the team's entire foreseeable future in the form of 5 first round draft picks, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, for the star player Paul George, who has consistently established a track record of shrinking in the playoffs during his career.

From Left to Right (Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Landry Shamet, Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell)

To add to the equation, LA Clipper's head coach Doc Rivers faces some serious questions this off season. While generally well liked throughout the league as a motivator of men, his teams have consistently under performed and the track record is starting to become evident. He has given up 3 separate 3-1 leads during his coaching career, and that cannot be overlooked when assessing the direction of the organization moving forward.

Lastly, the comradeship and chemistry of the Clippers was simply not there all season, with them not taking the regular season very seriously despite most of their players not winning anything in their careers. Back in January this year, LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley called reports that the team was facing chemistry issues as "fake news".

It was clear chemistry was an issue for the Clippers all season, with many of their players missing time due to load management or injuries throughout the duration of the season. After the demoralizing game 7 defeat by the Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers guard Lou Williams admitted that chemistry was indeed an issue all along:

"I think a lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out; chemistry didn't. In this series it failed us. We know this is our first year together. We are a highly talented group and we came up short".

The LA Clipper's chemistry issues continued during their last game. This resulted in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both shooting a combined 10 of 38 from the field, and both going scoreless in the 4th quarter in the decisive game 7.

On the other hand, the Raptors had arguably the best executive in the league in Masai Ujiri, the Coach of the year in Nick Nurse, Toronto being in the weaker conference, and the chemistry Kawhi built with the familiar core of Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka just to name a few would have gone nowhere but up. Despite both the Raptors and the Clippers exiting the playoffs in game 7's and both in the second round, there couldn't be a more clear contrast in how they went down swinging. Pascal Siakam was Kawhi Leonard's robin last season, but he hasn't made that step as a first option just yet, and it showed during the Raptors series against the Boston Celtics. However, despite him struggling, the Raptors showed resiliency in the face of adversity against a more talented foe in the youthful Celtics. The core of the Raptors had championship DNA written all over them, and there is no doubt they were the better overall team then the LA Clippers in the Orlando bubble.

From Left to Right (OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, per Slam Magazine).

Despite the embarrassing loss, Kawhi Leonard appears to be all in on what the Clippers have to offer. Both he and Paul George become free agents in 2021, hence the outcome of next season will be absolutely imperative for the Clippers franchise. Otherwise, they risk losing the very asset they gave up their entire future for; and that is a frightening thought if you're Steve Balmer.

Kawhi Leonard exists the bubble facing some of the biggest criticisms of his career, and critics will use the outcome of this season to fuel their arguments that from a basketball standpoint, leaving for Calfornia wasn't the best choice. At the end of the day, Kawhi may not regret leaving Toronto, but the team with the better future was certainly north of the border.

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