Rent Or Buy: Kawhi Leonard's Load Management Blues
Has there been a more tender wooing than the Toronto Raptors pursuit of Kawhi Leonard, their presumptive star? Perhaps Prince Harry pitched a sweeter song to his intended Meghan Markle. But were the chocolates and flowers from the Palace more passionate and pleading than the Raptors’ entreaties to their meal ticket to stay in Toronto?
To soothe Leonard from the rigours of the NBA’s regular season the team has given him nights off to rest and rehab from various hurts. “Load management” they call it. Granted, Leonard had suffered a series of injuries in his final season with San Antonio that caused him to miss much of his last campaign with the Spurs.
This past week saw another hearts-and-flowers session from the Raps in the direction of Leonard. He was a force in the lineup as the Raptors hammered their rival Boston Celtics on Tuesday. But, by Sunday, it was back to the bench in the OT loss to Detroit. “Load Management”.
Fans of the team call it a load of something else.
The end game in this Leonard Love is to convince him to stay in Toronto past this year when his contract expires. The betting around the NBA is he won’t stay, preferring to go to his native southern California. Leonard himself is not letting on.
Were this an exceptional circumstance for Leonard, people might understand. But the skilled small forward has long exhibited self interest of a special type. In San Antonio, Leonard struggled with injures to his shoulder and his right leg. When Spurs doctors told him he was healthy enough to play, Leonard sought a second opinion.
His teammates held a meeting to declare that they thought that Leonard should get his butt back on court pronto. But Leonard refused and did not play another game the rest of the 2018-19 season. To say there was bitterness when the Spurs lost in the playoffs without their transcendent star would be an understatement.
So no one was surprised when the Spurs unburdened themselves of Leonard in the summer. The real surprise was in Leonard’s landing spot in Canada with the Raptors. Few saw Toronto being that aggressive. But with LeBron James taking his talents to L.A., the Eastern Conference looked open to the management of the Raptors.
Leonard could be the David Price/ Troy Tulowitzki/ Russell Martin to jumpstart a playoff run and a possible trip to the Finals for slaughter at the hands of Golden State. No matter, the deal was a shocker. Toronto has been in the NBA since 1995, but to many players it might as well be Mars for its attraction to free agents and starts with leverage.
This time, Toronto was sure it could make Leonard love the shore of Lake Ontario in a hockey town. The deal cost the Raptors dearly as homegrown star DeMar DeRozan was packaged off to San Antonio for Leonard. So it would not be an exaggeration to say that the franchise had pushed all its chips to the centre of the table in bringing Leonard to Canada.
Fans looking for Leonard to embrace the city after the trade were disabused of the notion over the course of the offseason. There was no Welcome To Toronto press conference, no round of media availabilities at the Scotiabank Centre, no pictures of Leonard in the Toronto jersey till he grudgingly showed up for his contracted appliances at training camp.
When the preseason started and Leonard was not in the lineup fans contented themselves with the idea that his energies were being marshalled for the long regular season ahead. When his “load management” plan kicked in during the early season they told themselves he was being saved for the stretch run and postseason.
But when Leonard was missing losses as recently as Sunday that his talent could have changed, the feeling was less philosophical. If Leonard is indeed flying the coop, the thinking goes, why are we not getting everything we can out of him? If we are to see DeRozan star long term in San Antonio, our compensation should be Leonard in the short-term in Toronto.
Leonard is saying nothing abut his state of mind. When he does play he’s worth the price of admission. When he doesn’t the results are annoying for fans.
Meanwhile the NBA roils with possible destinations for Leonard. None of which start with T and end with O.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.