When the Toronto Raptors won their championship, it felt as if Kawhi Leonard got more praise than the Raptors as a whole.
Following the Toronto Raptors championship in 2019, much of the media and people gave the credit to Kawhi Leonard, which is somewhat fair. Without him, the Toronto Raptors most likely see a second-round exit against the powerhouse 76ers last playoffs. However, no one talked about how much a superstar like Kawhi needs a team like the Raptors to win it all.
After Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead, despite the NBA having the stage set for a battle of LA all year long. This can prove as a case study and most importantly a lesson that you can’t just assemble two superstar players — I wouldn’t call George a superstar but that’s what Clippers were expecting nonetheless — and establish a brand new system and expect to win a championship in a year.
You can make the counterargument with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but at least LeBron was actually there for a full year before getting AD. There was already the presence that it was Bron’s team, and most of the guys there already knew that.
Meanwhile, the Clippers team built themselves on grit and toughness with the spotlight shining on Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Montrezl Harrell in their egalitarian ecosystem that took the heavyweight Warriors to six games last season.
But the spotlight was shifted to Kawhi and George who completely changed the way their basketball was played and even caused chemistry issues to brew. Things that the Lakers avoided by having LeBron for a year already, and also is LeBron is LeBron. But he did go through something similar back in his day as well.
History of superstars put together expecting to achieve greatness straightaway
Remember the first year of the Miami Heat? It took him two years before he won his championship. Maybe we can even say Shaq and Kobe to a degree even though Kobe wasn’t Kobe yet in his earlier years. Do you know why it didn’t work right away? There was no system established, and there was no chemistry. Things that aren’t developed overnight. Those teams just didn’t feel like a “Team” up until they won.
It’s teams that win championships, not individual players. Now I’m not trying to be Jerry Krause and say that organizations win championships, not at all. It’s the players. But it’s when great individual players get to play as a collective unit do they win championships.
Kawhi was a beneficiary of two great teams
Look at Kawhi Leonard and his two championships. He wasn’t some sort of crazy phenomenon that took the league by storm as LeBron did in 2003. Kawhi was a fantastic player that benefitted from playing in a great system that has dominated the league for the past 20 years, the Popovich led Spurs.
Now I’m not saying Kawhi Leonard is a system player, he is far and away from that. When you think of system players or rather players that create the system, you think James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo whose teams would be nothing without them. The whole system is designed to maximize every little thing they do well and without them, those teams would falter.
Kawhi is a player that can be put into any great system and he would strive. He’d handle all the responsibilities a superstar should, similar to Kevin Durant with the Warriors. We saw him doing that on full display for the Toronto Raptors last season. He was the superstar that took care of the game in the final minutes, that shut down the opponent’s team-best player, and was the one the ball went to if all else went wrong.
Championships are interdependent on a superstar and good system
Every team needs that type of player to contend for championships. And every superstar needs a functioning team that has a system and chemistry in place, which is what the San Antonio Spurs had in 2014, and what the Toronto Raptors had in 2019.
There’s a reason that the Toronto Raptors were 17-5 last season when Kawhi didn’t play, but there is also a reason that the Toronto Raptors didn’t have enough firepower to beat the Boston Celtics this season. If Kawhi Leonard was with Toronto in that series, there is no question the Raptors win that series and would be playing the Heat right now.
Instead, Toronto Raptors fans get to experience a sort of bittersweet moment with Kawhi losing in the semifinals. Knowing full well of what could’ve been with the Raptors had he stayed one more year.
It also asks the question if the Toronto Raptors championship is even more impressive. Personally, no, I think what Masai and what the Raptors built over the years was very impressive, they just needed that one superstar to push them even further, something they thought they had in DeRozan.
However, for members of the media and casual fans who just think Kawhi went there and carried them and left, maybe this changes how they view things. Because it’s not as simple as that. Especially after what we saw of him in a Clippers uniform. Kawhi is great, but no player is great to the point where they can just form a brand new team and win a championship in a span of a year.
The first year alone is where you establish a system, build chemistry, and get guys to know their roles. All things championship teams go through before winning.
Does the media appreciate Toronto Raptors more now?
Nonetheless, that’s what people thought Kawhi was and all credit from the media went to him when the Raptors won. Therefore, in the grand scheme of things and for the history of the game, I do think it adds more value to their championship and guys like Nick Nurse, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and most importantly Kyle Lowry.
It also makes the supportive players in the Clippers team look a whole lot worse too, which leaves a smile on all Raptors fans’ faces.
At the end of the day, Raptors fans are forever thankful for Kawhi did for the city but we also understood why he left. It’s just a shame that he didn’t at least try to defend the championship and instead joined an inferior team to end up away from home where he wanted to be in the first place anyway, Orlando.