Looking Kawhi Leonard’s Journey And Future Outlook

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Feb 3, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (left) and LaMarcus Aldridge (12) react on the bench during the first half against the Utah Jazz at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (left) and LaMarcus Aldridge (12) react on the bench during the first half against the Utah Jazz at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi not Kawhi

So Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor. The reverberations from the above fact are such that the other preceding noise has either been drowned out or at least made less audible. Perhaps the best question that can be asked is, what relevance does the move have on the NBA landscape in general. As always (perhaps), the true answer is, it depends.  It depends on how well Kawhi recovers from his quad injury and returns to, or even surpasses, his previous level of play.

For basketball fans familiar with Kawhi’s game, it is hard to bet against the claw. Indeed, Kawhi, famous for having a personality known as quiet, introverted and hitherto a good fit for the San Antonio Spurs. Has tended to make it easy for folks to underestimate him.

Widely regarded as one of the best players in the world and recently touted as a top 5 player by Toronto GM Masai Ujiri.

Kawhi Enters the NBA

Kawhi was taken with the 15th pick by the Indiana Pacers and then promptly traded to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for George Hill.

In fact the:

• Pacers

• Cleveland Cavaliers (twice)

• Utah Jazz (twice)

• Toronto Raptors (ironically)

• Charlotte Bobcats

• Washington Wizards

• Detroit Pistons

• Milwaukee Bucks

• Houston Rockets

•Phoenix Suns

All passed on their chances to draft Kawhi, with the Suns reportedly doing so because a nervous Kawhi sweated through his suit during their interview.

Kawhi now?

With Kawhi Leonard spending most of last season off the court and Kawhi looking like a shell of himself when he did play, the doubters and detractors have once again begun encircling Kawhi. Whilst some have wondered whether we live in a rings culture, where winning and championships are the only things that matter.

For Kawhi Leonard at least, the truth is far more complex. Until now Kawhi had been the perfect Spur. Highly productive, with zero distractions and capable of single-handedly keeping San Antonio’s championship aspirations alive. After all, Kawhi Leonard is already a champion, a finals MVP and again, comparable to the NBA’s most elite players.

Few if any saw this coming, but now that it has, seems some are way too quick to forget. It’s worth remembering that a similar (forgetful) attitude may have been what caused a breakdown of the Spurs relationship with Kawhi in the first place.

According to ex-Spur Stephen Jackson, the Spurs’ albeit indirectly, publicly questioning the severity of Kawhi’s quad injury, is what ultimately caused Kawhi’s exit from San Antonio. While the Spurs did manage to execute some damage control by getting Demar DeRozan in return for Kawhi.

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The ceiling with Demar is obviously lower because although Demar is an all-star, he has never been considered amongst the NBA’s top five. Therefore, it must be said that the Spurs have taken a step backward with Kawhi moving on. Moreover, to Spurs will need a lot more than Demar if they hope to add any championship barriers any time soon.

Kawhi’s Journey

As alluded to above, Kawhi came into the league quietly flying under the radar. Even Gregg Popovich originally had to be convinced that trading for Kawhi was a good move by Chip Engelland. Who just happened to see a bored Kawhi getting ten minutes of shooting reps in whilst at the Attack Athletics Gym in Chicago.

Nevertheless, whilst the NBA has often underestimated Kawhi, Kawhi for his part has dreamed of being an NBA player since he was seven years old, if not longer. ( Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier partnered with Kawhi to achieve an improvement Kawhi’s three-point shooting that was virtually unprecedented.

In two seasons at San Diego State University, Kawhi averaged 25% from three. Meanwhile, coming into the NBA Kawhi was able to average around 37 percent from three and peaked at 44.3 percent in the 2015-16 season.

According to Pop in an article by Lee Jenkins for www.si.com

” He wants the greatness badly…Just doesn’t give a damn about the stardom…He loves the game,…Just ignores the rest of it”.

(https://on.si.com/2roqQZ7)

Leonard may be quiet, he also knows what he wants and has known since he was a child. He wants and has already achieved NBA greatness and has been chasing NBA this long before he became a Spur.

Kawhi, not Kawhi?

Leonard once brought two lamps from home to his old San Diego gym so that he could continue shooting when the arena lights went out. Kawhi proceeded to this for two straight days. Starting six AM, until his college coach Steve Fisher was notified. Presumably because of health and safety concerns. Seven years later, Kawhi has done nothing but provide more evidence of his greatness.

With the vacant spot left by Lebron’s move out West and all the controversy surrounding Kawhi’s trade request. Kawhi will have every motivation to come out and prove that he is still one of the game’s best players. Not to mention the length of absence he’s endured from the game he loves and recent regular season success of the Raptors. It will be a very sad irony for the Celtics if Lebron James vacated the East only to have Kawhi replace him as the new Eastern Conference gatekeeper.

One thing is for sure, the Raptors will have a better supporting cast than the Cavs. However, with the return of Kyrie and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics will also be stronger in the new season too.

As we’ve already argued, competition in the NBA is very healthy.

May the player and team win.

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