The Toronto Raptors have spent most of the season trying not to overburden Kawhi Leonard. However, once the playoffs start, it is time for load management to end.
The Toronto Raptors load management ideology was pioneered by the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have learned over the course of 21 (soon to be 22) straight post-season appearances and five titles that you shouldn’t focus on the regular season. The rest of the NBA followed suit.
During Tim Duncan’s final six seasons in the NBA, he only averaged more than 30 minutes per game once. Duncan only played 80 or more games five times in his career. Popovich was routinely fined for sitting his star players during nationally televised games. He felt that having his players fresh for a post-season run should take precedence over regular season success.
Given the history of the Spurs’ organization, it surprised many observers when Kawhi Leonard decided he wanted out. But the Spurs loss was the Toronto Raptors’ gain. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster brought Leonard to Toronto for one reason, to make a run to the NBA Finals.
The Raptors are enjoying their most successful era. The team is about to make its sixth straight playoff appearance. FiveThirtyEight projects that the Raptors will finish the season with a 58-24 record. That would be the second highest win total in franchise history. It will also be the Raptors fourth 50+ win season. However, in previous seasons, the Raptors have come up short when it has mattered most.
The last two seasons have ended with a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Raptors have only advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals once. The narrative continues to be that the Raptors are great in the regular season, but choke come playoff time. That is why this season Ujiri and his staff have taken a different approach.