Kawhi Leonard did a lot this NBA season, including getting the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
But when the dust clears after the Finals, Leonard might have just saved the league.
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For sure, the NBA had become about forming super teams, friends playing with friends, starting with LeBron James in Miami.
It ruined the league.
It threw off the competitive balance, the most vital lifeline to a healthy league. It was the haves and the have-nots.
The Warriors are in the NBA Finals for the fifth straight year. It’s a feat we hadn’t seen since 1966 when the Boston Celtics did it.
Before the Golden State Warriors head to their 5th consecutive Finals take a look at their best plays from the 1st round, Western Conference Semifinals & the Western Conference Finals!
But back then, it was totally understandable. There were only 10 teams in the league. They were good and there was no free agency. So good teams stayed together until they got old.
Back then, all the best teams dominated: the Yankees, Celtics, Packers and Canadiens. The Yanks went to the World Series eight times in the ‘50s.
That shouldn’t be happening now. We shouldn’t know who is going to the Finals every year even before the season starts.
Sadly, that’s the NBA in current state.
Tossed aside in this AAU mentality of ganging up all the best players and beating lesser competition was the traditional way of building a team.
The Raptors were already a good team, but just didn’t have postseason success. So it rolled the dice.
No, the Raptors didn’t go out and try to sign two stars to go with their cast. Toronto simply traded their star for another star.
Leonard, 27, wanted out of San Antonio, where he had won a title and was named a Finals MVP.
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The Raptors traded away an All-Star and fan favorite, DeMar DeRozan, plus a top-10 draft pick and a future first-round pick in exchange for Kawhi.
It was a huge gamble, especially since Leonard could be an unrestricted free agent and bolt after just one season.
Masai Ujiri, the Raptors team president, made the right move.
Hopefully, other teams and players will look at this and think about how it used to be. That you don’t need to stack the deck in your favor in order to win and win big.
There’s nothing wrong with free agency. Players deserve the right to move around and get the best deal for themselves.
But there’s also a greater good about the league as a whole when the competition factor is damaged in the process.
That’s what James did when he went to Miami with his buddies. Remember, LeBron even bragged that they would win many championships. “Not one, not two, not three. …,” he said.
And yes, James did go to eight straight NBA Finals – four with the Heat and four with the Cavs.
From Cleveland to Miami to Cleveland again, from 2007 to 2018, relive LeBron James’ full NBA Finals journey with the Cavaliers and Heat, facing the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, and more.
And it produced three titles for James.
But the competition in the Eastern Conference was destroyed and made it into the L-eastern Conference. It was good for LeBron, but bad for NBA fans.
Other players saw LeBron and followed. It’s totally understandable. When you see the best player in the league do something, you figure it must be cool, all right if he’s doing it.
Hence, teams started losing franchise players. None bigger that Durant, when he bounced from OKC.
And when Durant joined the Warriors, who had already won a title and been to the Finals two years in a row, some cried foul. They didn’t think it was fair, that the Warriors, already great, could add another great player.
Not only isn’t super teams not fair, it stinks.
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That’s why this Raptors story is so grand and could change the way players and teams move in the future.
Just imagine Leonard leading the Raptors to the title over the celebrated Warriors – winners of two straight titles and three of the last four.
With or without Durant, Leonard would give teams hope that building a team and trading to get a final piece to the puzzle works and star-stacking isn’t the only way to be the last team standing in June.
It just might save this league.
Parker’s Pick: Raptors win NBA Finals in six games.