Now that the Phoenix Suns have dispatched the Los Angeles Clippers from the playoff scene to make their third-ever NBA Finals appearance, the Toronto Raptors may be presented with an opportunity to make a transformative change to their roster. Love him or hate him, respect him or not, Kawhi Leonard led Toronto to its finest moment in franchise history two seasons ago.
Leonard’s career has gone through a bit of a rough patch in the last two seasons since turning down a more lucrative contract offer from the reigning champions. Instead, he left a championship team to toil for his hometown Clippers.
Since helping the Raptors win the 2019 NBA Championship with a tour de force performance that crowned him the Finals’ MVP, things have been downhill for the one-time Raptor who left Toronto to return to his native California. After two Finals-less seasons, could he really blow up the Clippers by opting out and becoming a free agent?
As they say, the grass is not always greener on the other side, and Leonard may be realizing that now. While Leonard, when healthy, is a super talent in the NBA, the Raptors should not return to their previous savior to attempt a quick roster fix or for nostalgic memories for several reasons.
The Toronto Raptors shouldn’t go all out on a Kawhi Leonard return.
Kawhi Leonard may be damaged goods healthwise.
Its been long established that Leonard is not one to play through injuries. This alone isn’t cause for worry as every player has a different threshold for pain tolerance. There are also examples like Andrew Bynum, who in 2010 helped the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA title while literally playing on one knee, which had to be drained between games.
Leonard seems to be on a similar path. It was the 2017-18 season when he missed 73 games due to a quadriceps problem that San Antonio team doctors felt he was healthy enough to play on. Leonard and his personal doctors disagreed, which caused a rift between the Spurs coaching staff, management, and players that ultimately got him out of town.
Is Kawhi Leonard too banged up for the Raptors?
In Toronto, the term “load management” was coined to help Leonard navigate a grueling NBA schedule and protect his health which allowed him to miss 22 regular season games. In the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, Leonard has missed another 35 regular-season games even though both seasons were shortened to 72 game schedules.
In the last four years, he has missed 130 games out of 308 potential contests, or 42 percent of his team’s games. It’s hard to build a team around a player who is never available to play, much less build chemistry through practice and on-court familiarity with his teammates.
He is chronically injured and maybe another tweak, strain, tear, or hyperextension of a joint away from a shortened career.