Sixers fans, it’s over. You have to be happy about it. I know that a lot of the fans are not, but it’s over. Kawhi Leonard is not coming to Philly and it’s the best thing that happened to the team this offseason. Spare me the comments where you don’t provide any rational argument other than to say I’m an idiot or don’t know what I’m talking about. Let’s look at what happened and we’ll see how it truly is a good thing.
The Sixers didn’t rip apart their team in hopes that Kawhi will be the player he was two years ago. The initial reports of Dario Saric, Robert Covington and the Heat First Round pick had the message boards salivating like the guy is the second coming of Michael Jordan. In reality, the Spurs were looking for much more. As time wore on, the inclusion of Markelle Fultz was something that people were debating after his lackluster rookie season. But, that still wasn’t enough. In the end it showed that the Spurs really wanted Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid, two players that the Sixers said were strictly off limits.
The Spurs, if you step back and look at the situation, never intended to trade Leonard to the Sixers. Nor did they want him on the Lakers or the Celtics. Initially, the three teams were all linked to Leonard and then the reports were that they backed off at the Spurs demands of basically all their good young talent. Pop and the Spurs knew that all three teams would walk away from those demands.
Markelle Fultz was considered by and far, the best prospect in the draft in 2017. After him, the agreement was, that you could basically put in any of the next ten players in any of the next ten draft slots. So, the Sixers wouldn’t be giving up on him right away. Simmons and Embiid were never even a factor. But, Saric and Roco and a pick would have been valuable to the Spurs. My thinking was that was too much to offer. The Spurs had no leverage in this whole situation. So, why give up anyone that starts on your team? They didn’t and then the Spurs unloaded Leonard to Toronto. They sent him to the East as well as to a team that seems to have its own issues. They fired the coach of the year and then told their most loyal star that he wouldn’t be traded, which they promptly did. So, enjoy life in Canada this year Kawhi.
Now, let’s look at Leonard, the player. Is he really as great as everyone says he is? I don’t think so. Minus the awards, Leonard is, statistically, just slightly better than Robert Covington for his career. Look them up and tell me that I’m wrong. He averages just over four more points per game and everything else is really really close. So, why all the fuss?
When Tim Duncan’s career was winding down, the Spurs needed that next superstar. While Parker and Ginobli were both stars in their own right, they weren’t on the level of Duncan who will go down in NBA history as an All-Time great. So, they start pushing Leonard. The NBA, knowing that Duncan was leaving soon and not wanting to see the Spurs dismantled, started pushing Leonard on everyone. He’s a very good two-way player, but he’s not in the top five players in the league as you’d be lead to believe.
I’ll take a short break as I know everyone is upset about his Finals MVP and his two DPOY awards. In those Finals the only stat better than Borris Diaw was his points and steals, slightly. Diaw had more rebounds and assists and it wasn’t close. He played very well, but he wasn’t the overwhelming MVP, as he wasn’t the top stat guy on his team in anything.
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Also, the secondary argument is that he shut down LeBron. Lots of people like to say that. LeBron’s stat line was 28/8/4/2 on 57% shooting from the field, 52% from three and 79% from the line. So, what exactly did Leonard do to shut down James? Nothing. The Spurs had a very good team that played their roles correctly and was able to beat the Heat. After LeBron only Wade and Bosh contributed. So, don’t get on the Kawhi shut down LeBron argument.
As for Leonards two DPOY awards, he wasn’t even the best defender as Draymond Green had a better season both years and Paul Milsap and Anthony Davis each had a year in there as well, that were better than Leonards. It was all part of the NBA building up Leonard to be the next big star on an aging Spurs team that lacked stars.
Back to reality here. Around the time that Leonard was initially hurt, he was having a very good year. He garnered more MVP votes than LeBron in the 2016-17 season, despite the fact that LeBron had better stats across the board. All part of the NBA needing him to be a star on that team. But, the big one is coming.
LaMarcus Aldridge goes to the Spurs and says he doesn’t fit with the team and asks to be traded. Pop says that won’t be necessary, as he’ll make adjustments and help Aldridge fit in with the Spurs who are now minus Tim Duncan. What is the response? Aldridge comes back with 23/9 this past season and plays remarkably well for a thirty-two year old center in a league that’s not really position specific any more. Leonard sees this as a slight to himself and doesn’t return to the team. When he does return and the team says he’s healthy enough, he slides back in to Robert Covington statwise with 16/5. But, he’s not happy so he bails on his team and doesn’t return. He doesn’t even return phone calls and leaves the team. They hold a meeting where they basically beg him to come back and he doesn’t. Is that a leader? Is that the star? No. that’s a guy who overvalues himself and doesn’t care about the team.
Finally, he let’s out, according to “sources”, that he plans on signing with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent next year and that puts the Spurs in the unenviable position of having to trade him and at least get something in return for a guy that may not return to the team.
It brings us right back to the Sixers and Brett Brown, who Leonard has a relationship with and the specialist he’s seeing that happens to be a Sixers doctor. All things lead to Philly, right?
Let’s look at it medically. If the doctor is associated with the Sixers and he’s saying that the guy isn’t worth giving up the whole process for, then they don’t do it. Which they didn’t. Browns relationship? Who cares? Leonard couldn’t make it work with Pop and he’s one of the best and most respected coaches of all time.
Given all of this, why would the Sixers forsake “The Process” for a guy that is causing problems with one of the most successful franchises of the past twenty-five years? Because a bunch of fans think he’s going to win them a title in the next two years? It would never happen.
“The Process” was started to accumulate as many quality picks and players as possible, in order to make the Sixers a consistent contender and championship caliber team for many years to come. They’re sticking to it.
With what we’re learning about Fultz and his anxiety, the Sixers are better off taking the time to see how he develops and over the past year, that hasn’t been bad. He was able to come back at the end of the season and he’s working all off-season in order to be the player that expected him to be. He’s working on himself for the better of the team. Ask Leonard if he’s done that. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are already stars in the league. Dario Saric has proven that he too, is a huge piece of the process. The most recent draft has brought us Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet.
Smith is an amazing athlete who’s shooting is pretty good. But his energy and defense are off the charts. He’s already a better second unit player than the likes of Justin Anderson. Shamet, he can shoot. From anywhere. At any time. So now, the Sixers are sitting on three players for their second unit that are all first round picks and provide something that the team lacked last year. Sure, Belinelli and Ilyasova played a good role for the team but, getting two guys known for their defense on the second unit, that can provide quality scoring as well as a third that can shoot from anywhere, makes the Sixers a much better and more complete team.
If you can, do me a favor and support the team instead of beating them up for not bringing in a guy that believes his press and doesn’t do anything to help his team. Look at where the whole process has brought the Sixers in a few short years and see that there’s a team that will be contending for a long time, with their own home-grown stars. Finally, look at Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. They’re the model right now in the NBA and the team that everyone is trying to beat. It took them roughly five seasons with Curry and their team to get where they needed to be and they haven’t fallen down while maintaining their core. The Sixers, in three more years, will be who everyone is looking to beat and how everyone will be modeling their team after. Forget Kawhi Leonard, he’ll be a mid-level player on a team that doesn’t win titles or a stat hog on a team with no chance, like Russell Westbrook.
Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports