The guy who marked these playoffs and performed the best when needed the most was Kawhi Leonard. The Claw posted one of the best playoff runs in the history of the NBA.
His stats were superb, and yet they are showing just one side of the domination Leonard displayed each night when Raptors played. All the problems, the injuries, fatigue, rivals were left behind.
“This is what I play basketball for,” Leonard said. “This is what I work out for.”
He averaged 30.5 points in the postseason, with 9.1 boards and 1.7 steals, all that in 39.1 minutes on the floor. Only Michael Jordan (759) and LeBron James (748) scored more points during one playoff run than Kawhi (732).
"This is what I play basketball for. … I'm happy that my hard work paid off."
—Kawhi Leonard after the Raptors' first NBA Championship pic.twitter.com/8O2WROSYLY
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 14, 2019
Against the Warriors, Leonard played 44 minutes per game, thus showing that all those load managements he took during the regular part of the season paid off in the end. Back then we saw many fans criticizing him because of that, saying that Kawhi takes care of his health so that he might sign some blockbusting contract with another franchise, and leave at the end of the season.
But that wasn’t true.
From the moment he arrived in Toronto, Kawhi was focused only on one thing. To win. During the press conference after last night’s victory, Kawhi told the reporters about his first message to Kyle Lowry in which he stated that he wants to do something big in Canada. He knew that Lowry didn’t wish for DeRozan to leave, but when you look a little bit better at the entire situation, we are pretty sure that Kawhi didn’t want to come to Toronto either.
But he recognized that this just might be the perfect environment for him to grow and to fulfill his ambitions.
“I came to a team, a new coast — that mindset was the same as mine, trying to get that Larry [O’Brien championship] trophy there. And this is what I play basketball for.”
Now, Kawhi has to decide if he is going to stay in Toronto or leave. He has $21.3 million guaranteed for the next season on one side, and a player option on the other. Everything indicates that the two-time NBA Finals MVP is going to chose to become a restricted free agent and to go for big money.
Which he deserves. There isn’t a better two-way player in the league than him, and when looking at some other players and their paycheck/contribution ratio, Leonard’s current salary is ridiculous. With all due respect, but when you see that one Otto Porter has $26 million per year, or one Hassan Whiteside has almost $25.5 million, it is absurd.
Many are interested in his plans for the future. Is he going to go to Los Angeles, and come back home? Or is he going to New York and try to conquer the league from the Madison? Or maybe to stay in Canada, where he became the No.1 athlete in the country.
For now, Leonard didn’t want to speak about that. Right now, he wants to celebrate and not to think about the future.
“I’m sure I don’t know yet. I’m going to take it day by day,” the player said.” I’m gonna enjoy this championship right now.”
His already high value had been increased after Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson suffered severe injuries. At the moment, Kawhi and Jimmy Butler are the only big names available at the small forward position. It means that all the teams are going to chase the Claw and offer him max deals.
If he chooses to leave, his contract would be $140 million for four seasons. If he stays, $190 million for five years.
But that is something which shouldn’t divert our attention from the fact that he just showcased why many believe that he might be the next King of this league.
And that the Raptors might become a new dynasty.
Nikola Velickovic is a sports journalist who loves to write, read, and bet on all sports. Nikola contributes both news updates and functions as a betting tips writer at WagerBop.