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I would like to take this moment to thank Kawhi Leonard for demonstrating, beyond all doubt, that no one has a damn clue what he is thinking.
Even as the truly odd spectacle unfolded on Wednesday of a plane, possibly containing Leonard, arriving in Toronto for a possible meeting with Raptors executives that would possibly lead to him signing a new contract with the team, the overwhelming response was one of confusion.
Was it Leonard? Why did he come all this way to meet? Couldn’t the Raps brass have just met him in Los Angeles? Or, like, anywhere else? Did he forget a toothbrush in town? Nothing, not the helicopter coverage or the breathless on-the-ground reports could provide much context for whatever in the world is going on in Leonard’s noggin.
Members of the Toronto press corps have been saying this all season. Since the moment he finally arrived in town in September, after a summer in which he had offered precisely no reaction to his trade from San Antonio, none of those who covered the Raptors were able to get a read on the guy.
People would ask what he was like, and the best you could offer was a shrug and a response that he was pretty quiet but seemed pleasant enough.
And now, here we are. In extending his free agency into a third day, and including, possibly, this jaunt back to Toronto, the Finals MVP has only underscored just how hilariously private he is relative to every other star, and to almost every other athlete.
While every other big-name free agent had all the meetings they needed with prospective new teams long before the free-agency period opened on Sunday evening — as evidenced by the mass rush of deals that were announced within moments of the countdown clock ending — Leonard seemingly eschewed most of his contact until this week, and has since been giving his options a right serious ponder.
We know he is choosing between the Raptors, and the two Los Angeles teams, the Lakers and Clippers. Sift through the details of anything further that has been reported so far, which isn’t much, and you will find that even those shreds of information are not insightful. Leonard had a good conversation with the Lakers or a positive meeting with the Clippers. What else do you imagine anyone party to those conversations would say?
A choice to stay in Toronto would signal that Leonard wants another, immediate shot at a title with a team in which he was the undisputed centrepiece, but which also had the depth to back him up at key moments — both with all of his missed games during the regular season and in the rare times in the playoffs when his scoring had been stifled.
The choice to go to the Clippers would suggest that Los Angeles, his home, was itself the key draw, but also that he wanted a good organization willing to construct a championship team around him. At this point, this would seem like a baffling move: the Clippers have missed out on the other free-agent stars that would have joined him there, and he’d be in a fight just to make the playoffs in a tougher Western Conference. As for the idea that Leonard just won a title by himself, something often repeated on various U.S. platforms in recent weeks, please. He was unquestionably the fulcrum of Toronto’s title run, but he also had no field goals in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Finals, as the Raptors surged toward the NBA title.
Lastly, the choice to go to the Lakers would mean … actually I have no idea what it would mean. That he always wanted to play for the Lakers? That he couldn’t resist the idea of playing with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and whatever assorted collection of random veterans and kids could be cobbled together to fill out a roster? That the physical toll of the past two months with the Raptors told him he would be better served by a reduced role on a superteam?
Two weeks ago, LeBron and Davis were teaming up to be to be an unstoppable two-man force, the best setup guy in the game and the best finisher at the rim. And Leonard would arrive and, I guess, exist off to the side of that?
Perhaps, for someone with health issues, that has significant appeal. Leonard really could treat the regular season like practice and then show up for two months of playoffs where the Lakers would provide matchup nightmares for all comers.
In a league where the big stars all seem to want their own team, that sounds like something else entirely. It could be exactly what Kawhi Leonard wants. It could be that the scenes of Wednesday, the helicopters and the caravan from the airport, and the crowds of onlookers outside a fancy hotel, were just a final chance for Toronto to say goodbye. We will soon find out.
Maybe Leonard will even explain the reasons for his decision. But I very much doubt it.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019