Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard leaving Toronto was a huge mistake

Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

Oh, what could have been had Kawhi Leonard stayed with the Toronto Raptors.  Now, coming off an embarrassing second-round defeat to Denver, The LA Clippers will have more questions than answers heading into Leonard’s final season under contract.

Though fans of the Toronto Raptors were heartbroken at the time, no one blamed Kawhi Leonard for leaving for the LA Clippers.  His decision came of little surprise even to the most optimistic Torontonians. Leonard’s desire to play in his home city of Los Angeles was well documented throughout his only campaign north of the border.

His plan was to force the Clippers to overpay for Paul George (and overpay they certainly did) and go toe to toe with Anthony Davis and Lebron James for the NBA title.  Fast forward over a year and things didn’t go according to plan.

The Clippers are fresh off one of the most embarrassing losses in playoff history, blowing a 3-1 lead to an inferior Nuggets team and failing to make the Conference Finals in the process.  They’ll begin the season as the second-best team in their city with the Lakers being favored to repeat as Champs.

They’ve just fired the coach who helped convince Leonard to choose the Clippers over the Toronto Raptors in the first place.  Rumblings by several role players unhappy about Leonard’s pampering and special treatment by the organization, have been circulating.  Not to mention, his supposed partner in crime, Paul George was MIA the entire postseason, and is looking more like a glorified Seth Curry than a bonafide “number two”.

Add in the fact that the Clippers have little cap flexibility in a notably bad free-agent class, and have virtually no picks or young assets to make a trade as they’re all now in OKC, and you have a serious problem on your hands.

All this makes one wonder, why on earth would Leonard leave the Toronto Raptors for this?

First of all, it’s hard to imagine a Leonard-led Toronto Raptors team falling the way they did to Boston in the second round.  In fact, it’s conceivable that Toronto would have been the clear favorite to come out of the East last season, had Kawhi decided to run it back.

Bad karma was on full display in a story that most certainly made Toronto Raptors fans smile. Leonard reportedly went to Clippers management and asked to try to acquire Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet to fill their gaping hole at the point guard position.  If you look up examples of irony, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than that.

Hindsight is a funny thing.  Leonard clearly expected more out of this Clippers team, and the geographical location obviously played a huge part in his decision to leave Toronto.  From a strict basketball standpoint though, it’s difficult to come up with a team that would have had a better chance to win a title than had he stayed with the Toronto Raptors.

A club already coming off a championship run, Toronto had the second-best record in the league without him.  They also play in a much weaker Eastern Conference and at the very least, would have had a clear path to the Finals.

As it was, The Toronto Raptors valiantly lost in the second round because they didn’t have the top tier talent needed to advance.  Leonard lost in the second round because he didn’t have the infrastructure, coaching, or supporting talent to advance.  Logic says marrying the two together would have created the perfect team.  Oh, and yeah, he literally won a Championship with the same roster sixteen months ago, so, there’s that too.

What Leonard decides to do next summer depends entirely on how well the Clippers finish in the upcoming NBA season.  It certainly has a “title or he’s gone” type of feel, similar to what the Toronto Raptors went through in 2019.  Will new head coach Tyron Lue move the needle enough to make them title contenders? That remains to be seen, but a roster move of some sort looks like it’s needed to bolster their chances.

Kawhi Leonard would have had a second Championship with the Toronto Raptors served up on a platter.  Now he potentially has one year left in Los Angeles, with a co-star who looks to be in decline, a new head coach, a supporting cast that resents him, a roster with little room for change, and a LeBron James Championship shadow completely cast over him.  The cold Canadian winters probably don’t seem so bad right about now.

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