Should Celtics have made a concerted push to acquire Kawhi Leonard?
Hindsight is damn easy, so the answer to the question of the Celtics making a concerted push for Kawhi Leonard last summer may be a resounding YES. His new team, the Toronto Raptors, will face the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Finals tonight - and Kawhi is a prime reason that the Raptors have come this far in the post-season.
In 18 playoff games thus far, Leonard is averaging 31.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.8 APG and 1.6 SPG while shooting 51% on field goals, 39% from beyond the arc and 88% from the charity stripe. He has been superlative on both ends of the court.
The 6'7", 230-pound Leonard looks like he was born to play basketball. With a wingspan of 7'3" - a hand length of 9.8" and hand width of 11.3" - he is a menace as a defender. When Toronto traded for him, they knew they were getting a 2014 Finals MVP, 3-time All-Star and 2-time Defensive-Player-of-the-Year. What they didn't know for sure is that he would have such a substantial, positive effect on the Raptors success.
One day when Kawhi Leonard was in college, they couldn’t get the lights to come on in the gym.— Basketball Psychology (@BallisPsych) May 27, 2019
He snuck a lamp in from outside the locker room just to get a workout in.
Greatness isn’t predestined.
Greatness is the byproduct of habitually doing what others aren’t willing to do. pic.twitter.com/tnEu8fywpw
The Raptors gave up DeMar DeRozan, Jacob Poltl and a 2019 first-round draft pick. Had the Celtics aggressively pursued Kawhi, it is almost certain that Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum would have been involved, in addition to the Sacramento pick owned by Boston. All of that for a possible one-year rental of Leonard, who has a player option for 2019-20. And the ceiling for both Tatum and Brown are still unknown.
It is quite possible that Danny Ainge might be regretting his decision not to go all-in on Leonard. The Sacramento Kings pick ended up at #14 in the upcoming draft, much lower than expected back in September. Jayson Tatum did not advance this season, and Jaylen Brown took a while to get his engine fired up.
"I think he's going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs, I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he's coachable. He's just like a sponge. When you consider he's only had [two years] of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he's going to be something else."
—Gregg Popovich, in 2012, on Leonard
Kawhi will end up as a free agent this summer. He will almost certainly opt out of his 2019-20 player option for $21.3 million. The Celtics may get another shot at him. Or they could really push for an Anthony Davis trade. Superstars that sparkle on both ends of the floor don't become available very often. Both Leonard and Davis are superstars that can alter the direction of a team. They have an immense impact on the game. But the price has certainly gone up on Leonard's services as opposed to the past summer. Should Danny have pursued him with a vengeance when the price was lower? Don't think he isn't asking himself that same question.
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Photo via Chris Young/The Canadian Press