The NBA Finals haven’t changed reality for Kawhi Leonard. Whether he wins Finals MVP or goes home a Finals loser, what happens after the NBA Finals is over, particularly on June 30th, is where the Kawhi Leonard drama begins. Leonard is entering the prime of his career and for the next six years he will be at his best. But where will Kawhi be at his best exactly? Toronto or Los Angeles? His decision will change the details for the franchise who wins the Kawhi lottery, and for the loser, it will be back to Plan B or Plan C and the consolation prize.
While it seems logical to stay with a team that has the depth and defense to get to the Finals, the heart wants what the heart wants. If Kawhi wants to come back to California as Uncle Dennis seems to imply, then the Clippers seem the most logical team to win the Kawhi sweepstakes. They have the coach. They have the billionaire owner who sweats passion and joy. They have Jerry West. They have the supporting cast and just need the superstar. They are as stable as the Clippers have been since they made their entry into the NBA in the early eighties. But, it just feels a little too perfect.
The Lakers, on the other hand are a mess. They have young talent but a front office that doesn’t know what they are doing. The only homerun they have been able to hit out the park since their season ended, well two homeruns. They hired Lionel Hollins as an assistant coach and they somehow snagged the #4 pick. But it wouldn’t surprise if Kawhi just walked in and said, here I am. Let’s go.
For all of the Lakers faults, they do have something that Kawhi needs. Another great player. One of the problems Kawhi is having in the Finals is that the Warriors are doubling him at every opportunity and as he is passing out of the double team, he is finding it hard to find anyone who can create their own shot and make their own shot.
Masai Ujiri has done a good job building the Raptors but they don’t have a legitimate number two. That wears on a star player. Just as it is easier for above average talent to suddenly play with a superstar, when a superstar plays with another superstar the game is easier. All those double teams Kawhi is getting from the Raptors, would disappear if he played with LeBron James. But they’d reappear if his next best player was Danilo Gallinari or Lou Williams. With Leonard having an injury history, being the only megastar on a team will be physically taxing.
I want Kawhi to stay in Toronto and the east, and to develop a rivalry with the Bucks and 76ers so every playoffs they can go back and forth and establish a culture of winning and trolling. But the NBA Finals isn’t going to make that decision for him.
Kawhi’s college years have been in the news recently and surprise, surprise, he was no different than he is now. Focused. Intense. Caring only about winning. What we didn’t know was how much he idolized Michael Jordan which begs the question, what would Mike do?
He’d stay in Toronto. He wouldn’t join LeBron James. He wouldn’t join an admirable Clippers B squad. He’d continue to get it done with the Raptors and establish his legacy north of the border. But, this just in. Kawhi may idolize Michael Jordan. But he isn’t Michael Jordan.
It feels like he’s on the move.