If this is it for Kawhi Leonard, one season of mystery, magic and memories in Toronto, one year and one unexpected and exhilarating NBA championship, then, really, all you can say is thanks.
Thanks, and you’ll never be forgotten.
Thanks, and you pulled off what no one saw coming, maybe even yourself, a regular season of load management — a new term invented — uncertainty and basketball brilliance, with quiet steely eyed confidence, affecting everyone around you.
That’s what the special players do in any sport: They set the tone. They sing the lead. They tune the instruments. They direct the orchestra. Whatever needs to be done gets done — and along the way every teammate grew a little taller, a little quicker, a little smarter, a little more serious, a little more diligent, a little more consumed because Leonard was consumed.
Leonard brought toughness and calm and strength to this championship team. He brought responsibility. He brought basketball intelligence. He brought purpose.
He brought his own varied version of Wayne Gretzky. Sometimes I’d watch Gretzky in his prime and think he’s not having much of a game. Then I’d look at the scoresheet at the end and see he had four points. It’s the same with Kawhi in a different way. Some nights he would look tired or off or just not himself and then you’d look at the scoresheet afterwards and see he put up 30 points and brought down nine rebounds. The great ones are about numbers and not about numbers all at the same time.
Nick Nurse did a marvelous job in his first season coaching the Raptors, his first season coaching Leonard. He’s the ninth NBA coach and third in recent seasons to win a title in his first year on the job. The other two, Tyronn Lue and Steve Kerr, had LeBron James in Cleveland and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State. And the message from that is rather clear. When you have the best player, you can win. Nurse had Kawhi. Your band sounds better when Paul McCartney sings along. The roster Dwane Casey was left with when he was fired as coach would never have won a championship. Those teams were fine, just didn’t have the right parts. They didn’t have a mega-star. You don’t