Lawrence Frank, Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer lined up alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George at the Green Meadows Recreation Center and reality set in like a splash of cold water.
Leonard was officially introduced as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday afternoon, closing an incredibly memorable chapter in Toronto Raptors history.
So memorable, in fact, that when it was his time to speak, Leonard made sure to express his gratitude to the organization, its fans, and the country of Canada for his time with the Raptors.
“I want to thank the Toronto Raptors fans,” Leonard said. “I don’t have social media so I’m not able to put out a paragraph or whatever. I thank all of Toronto, the city, the country. It was an amazing season. Best parade ever.”
Kawhi thanks the city of Toronto and their fans after a great season! 🇨🇦✊ pic.twitter.com/xRISYJoFh9— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 24, 2019
Leonard also made special mention of the doctors in Toronto who helped deliver his baby boy during the season as well as the restaurant campaign ‘Ka’wine and Dine’ — something he admitted to taking full advantage of.
The 28-year-old played 60 games during the 2018-19 season as a result of a carefully planned load management regimen, allowing him to perform at his very best in the postseason, where he averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals over 24 games. He finished with Finals MVP honors and the Raptors earned their first ever Larry O.B.
Ultimately, the allure of returning home and teaming with a player of Paul George’s caliber — who was an MVP candidate over the first half of last season — proved too much for all that Toronto provided.
It may just be a case of destiny as well, with George referencing the fact that the Indiana Pacers drafted Leonard while he was there and even being nervous about having to compete with him for minutes because he thought they’d be playing the same position.
Those feelings have obviously changed now, with Leonard and George likely to form the league’s most formidable pairing at the wing positions, especially when considering their ability to contribute at an elite level on both ends of the floor.
A report from The Athletic revealed that Leonard’s primary goal throughout the free agency process was to play for a team he felt could contend for multiple titles, and the Clippers’ acquisition of George via trade may just have been the hammer blow that knocked the Raptors out of the race.
George was just coming off the second of a four-year contract with the Thunder, making the acquisition all the more surprising.
“I didn’t do nothing that was ... I worked hand-in-hand with the [Thunder] front office,” George said. “We had a great relationship. I played two good years there. It was a mutual thing between both of us that the time was up and we both had ideas of doing things differently.”
Different. That’s what life in the NBA will be this season, with no clear favorite after years of dominance on the part of the Golden State Warriors. The Raptors won’t be viewed as contenders either, but still look poised to compete for home-court advantage in the playoffs on the backs of Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam.
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