Toronto Raptors: Why Kawhi Leonard leaving was so unprecedented

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

Players leaving is kind of the norm for the Toronto Raptors. However, Kawhi Leonard’s decision is a whole lot different.

For a while now, Toronto Raptors fans have been trying to deal with the reality that Kawhi Leonard will no longer rep their favourite team. We knew this outcome was possible and, when Masai Ujiri and crew first traded for Kawhi, the collective thought was that it was inevitable.

The idea of a star player wanting to stay in Toronto isn’t what the city is used to. Yeah, there was DeMar DeRozan, but outside of him, Toronto’s track record for keeping top-end talent is bleak at best.

However, as the season went on the fan base became more optimistic. That confidence grew as the playoffs came around, and the consensus in Toronto and the rest of the league started shifting slowly towards the only team North of The Border.

Throughout the season, everyone was trained to think there was only one way the Raptors stood a chance in keeping Kawhi. They would have to make it out of the East and give the Warriors a run for their money in the Finals. Well, we know how that turned out

The fans recognized the championship as a good sign in terms of keeping Kawhi and even media members seemed to be on the same page. For good reason. After all, this type of move has never happened after such success.

No player in NBA history has ever won Finals MVP then left his team in the immediate offseason. Then again, Kawhi Leonard is not any other NBA player.

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That’s just the first of many levels that make this move so bizarre. Just about all the details of his move to LA, except his desire to go home, caught the NBA world off guard.

For starters, what I mentioned already. After winning a championship, most players would want to run it back for an opportunity to repeat with the same core instead of starting something new. If you already have something that works, why go searching for it somewhere else?

The other head-scratcher is that he chose the Los Angeles Clippers over the Los Angeles Lakers. Not to say that the Clippers aren’t good enough to have gotten Kawhi, but as history will tell you, the Lakers are the storied franchise that everyone wants to be apart of. Not the Clippers.

Before this offseason, it would have been unfathomable to even think that the (arguably) best player in the league was choosing red and blue over the infamous purple and gold.

Not to mention passing up on a super team that would have gone down in league history as one of the best teams of all-time. If winning was the main goal, why not choose them?

The big reason he ended up on the Clippers was that he forced the Clips hand into trading their future for Paul George. Teams make trades all the time so what makes this one so weird?

Well, George still had two years left on his deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Generally speaking, players will ask out in the last year of their deal – not the second last.

This was pretty much the first time we’ve seen someone of George’s caliber request a trade with that long left and get moved so quickly.

Is that the direction the league is moving towards?

On top of the different teams involved, Kawhi as a brand and a basketball player took a huge jump forward. We’re aware of how he helped the Raptors, but a lot of people glaze over what Toronto did for Kawhi.

Around this time last year, he was traded for DeMar DeRozan… No offense to DeMar. But everyone knows there’s a talent difference between the two. After one year in Toronto, Kawhi is now being considered the best player in the league but also one of the most powerful.

During his time in the city, he also found a way to improve his off-court brand. His switch to New Balance wasn’t praised when it was announced in 2018, but the pairing has proven to be a great move for both sides.

LA has forever been celebrated for its market and ability to create opportunities for players, but Toronto proved the ability to do exactly that.

Even for a fan base that’s forever been familiar with the story of star players moving on, this departure is not what we’re used to. In a way though, it’s kind of the perfect representation of Toronto Raptors history.

Next. Grading every Toronto Raptors move this offseason. dark

Have some success, then see it walk away. This run with Kawhi didn’t last as long as the other experiences, but it kept the same theme.

Maybe this was just the way it was meant to end. In classic Toronto Raptors fashion.