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What they’re saying about Kawhi Leonard leaving the Raptors

The news sent shockwaves throughout the basketball world late Friday night into the wee hours of Saturday morning when, those who were still awake, learned that Kawhi Leonardhad decided to take his talents to the Los Angeles Clippers — and he’d recruited Paul George to come with him.

It’s a stunning series of events that instantly transforms the landscape of the NBA.

The Clippers, with their new stars and an A-level supporting cast, become title favourites. The Los Angeles Lakers are left scrambling to fill out their roster, while the Toronto Raptorsare left empty-handed with many questions facing the franchise and where to go from here.

With a day to digest it all...

Toronto Street - reacts to Kawhi leaving

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne dishes on the machination of the Paul George trade that sealed the deal for Leonard, while diving into what this entire free agent drama meant for the teams, fans and Leonard himself:

The chance to contend for a championship creates a gravitational force in moments like these. Two years earlier, [Thunder GM Sam] Presti had felt that same pull, when he traded for George as part of an effort to keep Russell Westbrook and rebuild after losing Kevin Durant to free agency. Last year, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri had felt it, as he weighed whether to give a core group that had experienced countless playoff disappointments one more crack at it with Leonard as a leading man. The Lakers had felt it just a few weeks earlier, when their chance to pair LeBron James with Davis was finally upon them. Now it was the Clippers’ turn. Was it time to eschew caution and trade away virtually every asset they had for George — and the chance to close on Leonard? How would they feel if they didn’t take the shot and Leonard chose the Lakers instead?

Leonard has become something of a Rorschach test the past couple of seasons. What you see in him is as much a reflection of who you are, as it is of him. He reveals little about himself, but everything about those who project on to him.

The Lakers saw a chance to build a dynasty around Leonard, Davis and James.

The Raptors saw a king, one they hoped would want to defend the championship ring he won in his lone season with them.

The Clippers saw a chance to reshape themselves and their place in the NBA.

In the end, though, this was about what Leonard wanted. His choice was more revealing of his character and ambitions than anything he could ever say.

He went home. And he didn’t go alone.

More reactions to Kawhi leaving the Raptors

The Ringer’s Danny Chau on what could be a sizeable gulf between the Raptors’ title run and their next great moment:

Caught with the short shrift are the Raptors, who, without a franchise-changing talent, find themselves staring down a potential transition season. It hasn’t even been a month since the Raptors were anointed. For longtime fans, this is par for the course.

…I was surrounded at the lunch table by fans, each with more than two decades of Raptors joy and misery under their belts; it’s possible that no one on the other side of the window could recall a losing season. Everyone around me contemplated that level of privilege with a mix of jadedness and jealousy. Civic fandom had, for so long, been defined by a sense of inadequacy and fatalism. The kids outside had a different vantage. They were born of a different paradigm of Raptors basketball. But less than a month removed from euphoria came the crash. The kids are about to learn a powerful lesson: You don’t know what you got till it’s gone. My sympathies go to the families trying to explain to their young ones why Kawhi isn’t on the Raptors anymore, even after winning a championship—they’re probably struggling trying to explain it to themselves, first.

…Unfortunately for Toronto, now comes the waiting game.

After playing for two teams in as many seasons, Leonard leaves the Raptors in a far more agreeable circumstance than the Spurs, writes Ben Golliver:

Despite winning a title and his first Finals MVP in 2014, Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs broke down in 2017 while he dealt with a nagging leg injury. That impasse led the Raptors to roll the dice and trade for Leonard last summer, even though reports at the time suggested he had interest in joining the Lakers.

One year later, Leonard exits Canada and returns home with no unfinished business. The three-time all-star averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists during Toronto’s title run, earning widespread recognition as the league’s best player during the playoffs.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis, he hit a buzzer-beater that bounced on the rim four times to eliminate the Philadelphia 76ers. In the Eastern Conference finals, his defence on 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo helped Toronto dig out of an 0-2 hole to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks in six games. Then, in the Finals, he outduelled Stephen Curry and lifted the steady Raptors past the Warriors. The Clippers made little secret of their interest in Leonard, dispatching front office staffers to attend his games throughout the season and floating out various team-up scenarios with the likes of Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler.

Stephen A. Smith joined ESPN’s Sportscenter early Saturday morning to share his thoughts on the action, and called Leonard’s orchestration “a power move of epic proportions”:

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