Kawhi Leonard has left the Toronto Raptors to join the Los Angeles Clippers. The feeling may initially hurt, but it's okay.
A moment that many people foretold is upon us. Kawhi Leonard has opted to leave the Toronto Raptors in free agency and is embarking on a new journey in Los Angeles, signing a four-year $142million max contract with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Sure, you're probably hurting right now. That's completely understandable. The Raptors have just lost the best player to ever step foot on a basketball court in franchise history.
No hyperbole. Kawhi was a different animal for the Raptors, carrying the team to their first-ever NBA championship. It's over now, and that's okay.
If the Raptors decide to call time on this chapter of their history, it doesn't come out of the blue. The team knew the risks of picking up Leonard last year. It wasn't even that particularly risky. It was a high ceiling/high floor scenario with Leonard on the team.
The aspirations were always for a title. Leonard and the Raptors delivered in style, there are no grudges here. Kawhi deserves to spend his Hall of Fame career however he wants, whether it's in L.A. or Toronto.
Unfortunately, it's in Los Angeles. Now, the Raptors will be in a strange position. Do they rebuild or do they run it back for one more year and try to make the playoffs?
Whatever happens, the Raptors knew what was around the corner. It was all part of the plan if they couldn't re-sign Kawhi Leonard. It was always the plan if they couldn't even trade for Leonard in the first place. A rebuild has always been in the near future for the Raptors, it just looks like it's coming sooner than many would have wanted.
Leonard averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game in 60 regular-season games for the Raptors, earning All-NBA Second Team honors in the process. He stepped up his game in the playoffs, courtesy of the Raptors load management, which afforded Leonard sufficient time to rest and recover during the regular season.
Averaging 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game during the postseason, leading the Raptors to the NBA Finals where they beat the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in six games.
The run to the title gave the Raptors some of the greatest moments in the team's history, including the first-ever Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history. Leonard carried the team through adversity and was always there to step up when Toronto needed him to. He gave everything to the team and in turn, they reciprocated.
It was a match made in heaven in some ways. The Raptors never garnered the attention of the mainstream media and Leonard could fly under the radar and do the business.
Alas, a long term relationship it was not meant to be. We'll survive, though. The Raptors have been through enough trauma in their history. The difference is now they have a championship to help them sleep at night.
That's not something many franchises can brag about, especially in recent years. The Raptors now have more titles this decade than 23 other teams combined. So, there's that. He gave the fans a reason to believe that they were more than just their past failures. With Leonard, the Raptors were champions. That will never change.
Sure, Kawhi is gone. The memories aren't gone. They'll last a lifetime and more. Leonard has gone down in history as one of the all-time greats. It hurts that he's moving on, but this franchise couldn't ask any more of him.
The Raptors still have a bright future ahead, even if it does feel a bit uncertain.
One thing is certain, though: Kawhi Leonard will get a standing ovation every time he returns, no matter who he plays for.
Thanks for everything, Kawhi.