Toronto Raptors: Is it time to end Kawhi Leonard’s “load management”

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors are neck-and-neck with the Milwaukee Bucks atop the Eastern Conference standings. Down the stretch, their best shot at overtaking Budenholzer’s group involves Kawhi Leonard playing, not resting.

Despite going 13-4 in Kawhi Leonard-less affairs this season, there’s no denying that the Toronto Raptors need No. 2 at his very best if they’re to come close to realizing this season’s ultimate goal: Winning an NBA title.

Let’s be clear about one thing…this group of players is unequivocally the best team this organization has fielded since its inception. The main reason – Kawhi Leonard.

The team’s handling of Leonard’s first season in Toronto has been perfect up to this point, and as a result, the team is within striking distance of Milwaukee for the top spot in the East. Because of Toronto’s poor showing in its last meeting with the Bucks — a 105-92 loss –, the Raptors missed out on any chance at a tiebreaker and now must finish with a better overall record than Milwaukee if they want to clinch the one seed.

Knowing the importance of playing Game 7s in your own building — home teams are 104-27 in “winner take all” games  –, it would make sense to play Leonard as much as possible. The time has come for the load management training wheels to come off.

Nick Nurse…. doesn’t exactly have the same opinion:

(well then, what do I know?)

With only two back-to-back scenarios left on the schedule, the Claw, if all goes well, will dress 17 out of a possible 19 times and finish 2018-19 with 63 appearances. A season ago, he had only nine, so I’d say 63 is a good bounce-back campaign. A good target number to shoot for is 60 — both for wins and Kawhi appearances.

Adamant throughout the year that regular season games are merely a tuneup for playoff time, Leonard has this to say to Josh Lewenberg of TSN following Friday’s win over Portland:

Sounds an awful lot like The Claw plans on simply “flipping a switch” come playoff time…wait, does that actually work?

I’m inclined to believe that this team has another gear it can reach in games 83 and beyond. That being said, the time to grease those gears, and to ensure they are primed and ready to be pushed to the limit when it counts most, is now, not later.

Ensuring Leonard and Co. play together as much as possible down the stretch will go a long way in galvanizing a team full of new faces preparing for what will be the biggest postseason run in Toronto Raptors’ history. Too much rest now, believe it or not, will hurt this team down the road. At least, that’s one writer’s opinion.

Next. 30 greatest Raptors of all time. dark

One month remains before the real fun begins, and it should be a fun ride, hopefully, one that lasts well into the summer.