It was clear when Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors that it was a one-year rental. But after his championship run, is it fair to say that was his “Last Dance?”
As ESPN’s “The Last Dance” comes to an end this week, is it reasonable to say that the Toronto Raptors had “The Last Dance” of their own last year? Probably not. The Toronto Raptors situation can’t at all be compared to the 98’ Chicago Bulls season. The Bulls were aiming for their second three-peat and have had the same team for almost three years. The Toronto Raptors didn’t even make the finals yet. But since we are all at home in quarantine with no other sports events coming up, I’ll make the comparison anyway.
Coming into the season, both teams knew they just turned an hourglass — the Raptors obviously not as extreme as the Bulls one of course. For the Chicago Bulls, it was Jerry Krause setting a detonate button at the end of the season no matter the outcome — if someone came from the future and said they’d win another 3 championships, he still wouldn’t have changed his mind. For the Toronto Raptors, it was the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, full knowing he was 98% gone the next season (let’s say his jersey number was chance he stayed in Toronto again).
So did the Toronto Raptors have their “First Dance” and “Last Dance” in the same season? Before answering that you have to consider the type of player Kawhi Leonard is when he joined the Toronto Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard accomplishments before he arrived with the Toronto Raptors:
- One-time Finals MVP
- Two-time Defensive Player of the Year
- Four-time All-Star
- Two-time All-NBA First Team
- Four-time All-Defensive team
- One NBA Championship
Michael Jordan accomplishments before 1997-1998 season:
- Five-time Finals MVP
- One-time Defensive Player of the Year
- Four-time MVP
- Eleven-time All-Star
- Nine-time All NBA First Team
- Steals Champ a few times
- Many scoring titles
- Everything else he freaking got
- Five-time NBA Champ
Jordan was a cultural icon and shaped the NBA in the late ’80s and ’90s. He isn’t considered one of the best athletes ever for no reason. Kawhi Leonard however, well he prevented the Miami Heat from three-peating and that’s what he is was most notable for. That and his defense. They are incomparable in the grand scheme of things. But the impact that Jordan had with his Bulls, was almost the same impact Leonard had with the Raptors.
Before you say that the Toronto Raptors were 19-4 in the regular season without Leonard. Look at the 1993-1994 Bulls without Jordan. The team only had two fewer wins — Bulls had a record of 55-27 — than they had the previous season. Despite the great regular season, they failed to make it to the conference finals without Michael Jordan.
The same place the Raptors failed to make it for two consecutive seasons. And it would’ve been a third if it wasn’t for the play of Kawhi Leonard against the Philadelphia 76ers. The entire Raptors team (except Ibaka) disappeared in that series. Kawhi single-handedly carried that series. Although he did get a lot more help against the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, the Raptors never would’ve have won without him. The same way the Bulls couldn’t win without Michael Jordan. That amount of talent and spirit is needed to go the extra mile.
It was probably the closest we’ll ever see a player in comparison to Jordan. The mid-range, the defense, playmaking, fadeaways, and most importantly the ability to take control of the game at his own will.
But we all know basketball is a team game, and it just wasn’t just Michael Jordan’s last dance. Despite the documentary being heavily associated with Michael Jordan. The Last Dance is exceptional at showing how important the team was, not just Michael Jordan. Showing many players’ background stories and how they came up from nothing.
That is the biggest takeaway from this documentary. That it was a team game and it wasn’t JUST Michael Jordan. The Toronto Raptors had the perfect team around Kawhi Leonard, and they all had their big games.
There’s the Serge Ibaka game, where he had critical offensive rebounds and hit huge threes in Game 7 against the Sixers. The Fred VanVleet game where he made seven threes against the Bucks in Game 5. Pascal Siakam had his game when he scored 32 points in game 1 against the Warriors. Then the all-important Kyle Lowry game where he scored the team’s first 11 points in game 6 against the Warriors.
So as much credit as Kawhi deserves with for his playoff run with the Raptors, it is the whole team that won it. Just like Michael Jordan and his Bulls team. Would have those teams won without their finals MVPs? Probably not. Would have they won if Leonard and Jordan had a different supporting cast? We’ll never know. But what we know is that every generational talent needs a good supporting cast around them and every good team needs a generational talent around them (except for 2004 Detroit Pistons).
So Kawhi Leonard may have had his last dance with the Raptors, but the Toronto Raptors are still dancing. They have a 46-18 record and have the third-best record in the league. If the playoffs were to happen, then we’ll see just how good the Raptors are without their finals MVP and if they truly need a generational talent to win them a championship like history has shown us.
Next: ESPN ranks Kawhi Leonard 25th All-Time
With “The Last Dance” ending, let’s just hope the NBA season resumes before anything else happens.