Throughout the season and well into the playoffs, the question that everyone had was simple. What does Kawhi Leonard want? The question may have been simple, but coming up with the answer was deceptively tricky.
While there were loud hints and rumblings about a great many things involving Kawhi, the man himself was impossible to read. He didn’t smile or break character in games or on the post-game podium. He gave you nothing, and so it all became a giant guessing game.
Turns out, the answer really was right there in front of us the whole time. Leonard liked to keep things simple. He often talked about playing for family and how all of this was just for fun. He liked a stable basketball environment -- no drama for this guy.
He also wanted his own team and he showed in his one season with Toronto just how formidable a Kawhi Leonard team can really become. The Raptors adopted his stone-faced visage and went about their business with the seriousness it demanded.
With Kawhi in charge, the team that always came up short of expectations, delivered on the greatest promise of all by winning an NBA championship.
He could have stayed with the Raptors and enjoyed another 2-3 year cycle of contending for championships with a solid group of proven vets and up-and-coming talent. He could have kept playing for a creative coach in Nick Nurse and an excellent executive in Masai Ujiri.
All that would have been fine and in keeping with what we thought we knew about Leonard. But he also wanted to go home and Los Angeles is a world away from Toronto. No apologies necessary, frankly.
Home presented two options: the Lakers and the Clippers. The Lakers offered a readymade super team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis already on board. The Clippers offered a clean slate. The Lakers offered prestige, but the promise of the Clippers included affording Leonard the ability to assemble his own team.
It was thought that would include Jimmy Butler, but Butler has his own needs and he made his way to Miami. Without a superstar teammate at the ready, the Clipper path seemed blocked. Even after all that he had done, we had somehow underestimated Kawhi.
It’s been reported by Sam Amick of the Athletic that Kawhi did some recruiting of his own, pushing Paul George to want out of Oklahoma City and join Leonard back home in L.A. with the Clippers. With PG and Leonard leading the way, along with a stable foundation of role players in place and a proven championship coach in Doc Rivers, the Clippers will enter next season as the favorites.
The price the Clippers paid is staggering -- a bounty in unprotected picks, a quality starter in Danillo Gallinari, and an excellent young player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It’s a price any team would pay to acquire Kawhi Leonard, and it’s a credit to the Clipper organization that they had all of those prime assets to move when the time was right.
In the end, Kawhi went with stability. He went with autonomy. He went home. It was all so simple, really. We should have seen it coming.