Opinion: Kawhi Leonard Has Officially Taken LeBron’s Throne
Written by Sean Fitzgerald on June 14, 2019
Photo Credit: clutchpoints.com
LeBron James. To the younger generation of NBA Fans, he is the Greatest Of All Time (or GOAT for short). He has gone to nine finals, including eight of them in a row with three rings, three finals MVP’s and 4 Regular Season MVPs, among his other significant accolades.
This isn’t about James vs Michael Jordan though, and this isn’t about who is the GOAT.
What this is about is who now owns the title of the best active basketball player on the planet being passed on. James is still easily a top five or top 10 player, but it was inevitable that someone would eventually take his throne, and the torch of the best in the world would be passed on.
Kevin Durant is the heir to his throne, right?
If you thought so, check again. It’s not Kevin Durant. While he’s younger than James and still has a number of years left, he is in his 30s now, and in the current NBA, there is a player that has just dominated the NBA landscape.
That player is 27-year-old Kawhi Leonard, coming off his 2nd title after winning one with Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in 2014 against the Big Three in Miami, and he just toppled another super-team dynasty in the Golden State Warriors.
For full disclosure, I originally was writing this article on Giannis Antetokounmpo during the Eastern Conference Finals. But after what Leonard has done in these finals, the mood shifted after busting another dynasty.
Now, Leonard is a two-time champion, and he has given Canada, the birthplace of basketball, and Toronto its first NBA title in his first season up North.
And this title comes after Leonard’s trust in the San Antonio Spurs organization deteriorated over an injury issue that saw him only play in nine games, and he deemed himself unable to play even when the Spurs staff cleared him for action and caused a distraction for an organization known for stability.
Then, Leonard asked for a trade, and he and Danny Green were sent to Toronto for Demar DeRozan, and from what we knew, Toronto wasn’t even a place Leonard was rumored to have an interest in.
I was skeptical of how things would work out, as the rumors of Leonard looking to go to a big market team like the Clippers and others ramped up, and that this team wouldn’t make it out of the East, despite LeBron not being in the conference for the first time in his career.
I was completely wrong.
Toronto did everything to keep him healthy, committing to a load management plan, not playing him on any ends of their back to back games (13 of his 22 games missed). The strategy helped lead to this version of Leonard being able to do more with this squad, a squad with fewer stars than other super-teams, but a greater synergy that has lead to this success.
In Game 3, he was just as impressive with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Him just being on the floor helped create more looks and opportunities for his teammates to score, and that was especially the case in Game 1 as well.
And then on Friday night in Game 4, Leonard scored 36 points with 12 rebounds, and he just kept hitting daggers from the corner against Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. He dominated the game and helped take two straight games from the Warriors in Oracle.
That’s unheard of in the last 5 years of basketball in that arena, especially in the playoffs.
And then with Durant going down with an Achilles rupture in Game 5, the warriors STILL forced a Game 6. In what turned out to be the final game of the season, Klay Thompson pulled a Paul Pierce before exiting the game, which turned out to be a torn ACL, and Leonard, Lowry, Siakam and the Raptors stepped up and finished off the Golden State dynasty as we know it.
I know folks in the Bay Area won’t see this as valid, considering Kevin Durant had been out for several games (even before the ending injuries to him and Thompson), but this Durant-less version of the Warriors would still beat almost every other team in the NBA with all the other stars and role players healthy.
Kawhi is the king of the world right now, and as the ball drops on this NBA season, Durant and Leonard himself have free agency decisions ahead of them. What they choose to do will tip the scales of power in the NBA once more, hopefully for the better, and not for worse.
Sean Fitzgerald is a member of the Black Squirrel Radio Sports Department and a Sports Coordinator. Follow him on Twitter @fitzonsportsbsr