Kawhi Leonard's Run
Writer: Jameson White
There has been a massive question hanging over the heads of the Toronto Raptors franchise - will he stay or will he go? “He” of course, is referring to superstar forward Kawhi Leonard. After being dealt to Toronto from San Antonio last summer, some thought that the Raptors overpaid for Leonard, as he was a player coming off injury, as well as entering a contract year. The Raptors gave up two players that were under contract for at least the next two seasons, as well as a lottery-protected first round pick. While it was a bold-move, Toronto had to go all-in this season. After years of playoff heartbreak, especially at the hands of LeBron James, they needed the guy that could consistently take over games and put a team on its back. Because of the circumstances of a top-five NBA player being on the trade block rarely comes up, they had to pounce on Leonard. In order to do so, they had to ship off their beloved and loyal DeMar DeRozan. Not even a year post-trade, this has paid Toronto dividends.
With the aforementioned LeBron James having left the Eastern Conference, the opportunity to win the East was up for grabs, with the conference frontrunners being the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and Raptors. After taking an abundance of regular season games off due to “load management,” Kawhi Leonard has absolutely terrorized the Eastern Conference in the NBA playoffs. He has averaged 31.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals per game through the 18 playoff games the Raptors has played in. With multiple 40-point games, big steals, and the only buzzer-beating, series-clinching, game-winning game 7 shot in NBA history, people have started to place him alongside Kevin Durant as the best basketball player in the world.
Kawhi has been absolutely everything that the Raptors could have hoped for in his first season with the organization. At the same time, they are also trying to give Leonard every reason they can to stay in the north; they realize that Leonard’s shoulders are not only carrying a team to a deep postseason run, but also carrying an entire country to an NBA Finals appearance.