It’s with heavy hearts that we share the reports currently making their way around the world: Kawhi Leonard will sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, as first reported by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports, leaving the Toronto Raptors after one magical championship season.
The news follows a year of questions, and two weeks of intense rumour-mongering and speculation, involving the Lakers, the Clippers, the Knicks, Magic Johnson meetings, teaming up with Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler, and talk of the Raptors getting the final meeting.
That last part seemed like cause for confidence; after all, who could be a better closer, coming off a championship season together, than Masai Ujiri?
We may never know what was said or discussed during that meeting, but ultimately, Leonard couldn’t be convinced and had another plan in his back pocket. He’s going west, where the Clippers pulled off a stunning series of moves after the stroke of midnight on Friday morning. First, they earned commitment from Leonard. Then, with help from Kawhi, they swung a huge trade with Oklahoma City to land Paul George. There’s a second superteam in Los Angeles — and most people are already asleep.
Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Sources: Oklahoma City is getting a massive package of future picks, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Galllinari, to deliver Kawhi Leonard who he wanted to partner with: Paul George. https://t.co/4bGpMNat8K— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Naturally, this is bittersweet news for Toronto, and Raptors fans; it’s incredibly difficult to lose your best player, and the most talented all-around player in team history, coming off a championship season.
We’ll forgive him — or I hope we will, anyway. He brought us to the promised land, after all, so he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants to do! It’s just tough that “whatever he wants to do” does not include staying in Toronto.
For a quick recap, Leonard averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 1.8 assists in his first season in Toronto after being acquired in a blockbuster trade for DeMar DeRozan last July. He played in 60 regular games, and proceeded to deliver a sensational postseason performance, leading the team to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history... and then winning the dang thing, and capturing a second Finals MVP for himself.
The trade was a risky one for Masai Ujiri — not only because he was moving out a franchise icon, not only because Leonard was only under contract for one year (and reportedly had no interest in playing in Toronto), but also because Leonard only played nine games the previous season while dealing with a quad injury. Would Leonard report? Would he be healthy? Would he stay?
The first two questions were answered over the last nine months. First, obviously Leonard was going to report; he’d be sacrificing millions, and possibly the start of his free agency, if he didn’t. Second, through the “load management” program developed by Raptors Director of Sports Science Alex McKechnie, Leonard was able to carefully monitor his health all season, staying fresh for that incredible post-season run.
And now we have the answer to the third question. The championship wasn’t enough, the love of the city wasn’t enough, the trust earned between Leonard and organization was not enough. Leonard, still prioritizing a winner, went to Los Angeles to team up with another superstar — though without the question of who’s the lead dog on the team, as he would with LeBron James on the Lakers.
It stinks for us, but if this is what he wants, who can blame him for going after it? He’s put in his time to get to unrestricted free agency, something every player has the right to do. And he delivered on everything the Raptors franchise and its fans could want in his one year here.
As discussed in his player review, Leonard’s one season in Toronto was, and will likely remain for a very long time, the single greatest season in Raptors history. His leaving doesn’t take that away; it doesn’t take away what we saw, what we experienced over the course of his one season here. He delivered the goods for 60 games, and then delivered way more for an additional 24. More games and more seasons would have been nice — it would have been awesome, in fact — but if we have to settle for those 84 and an NBA title, well, that’s enough.
It’s more than enough.