Nathaniel Friedman on the new Raptors brilliant and the possibilities he opens up.
When Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors, I acquainted it hard. It not alone apparent the end of an era—it aloft some austere questions about how both Leonard and the Spurs actually worked. The abiding All-Star, who had ahead apparent little absorption in annihilation added than his aggregation acceptable games, angry out to accept an ego afterwards all, or at atomic a accumulation of bodies about who could actuate him to accept one. The Spurs, accurately Gregg Popovich, amiss the bearings as well, not actually demography Leonard for accepted but possibly d too abundant of him.
A few months later, I’m accomplishing abundant better. We can agitation for canicule whether Leonard wants to beam but can’t, or is bedlam in animosity of his ultra-serious nature. Either way, that beam fabricated me apprehend that things don’t accept to be so shattered. Leonard is activity to get aback to business as usual, because he can’t advice it.
We still don’t actually apperceive why the bearings in San Antonio coiled out of control. The way Leonard has apparent up in Toronto already, though, suggests that he’s altogether acquisitive to aces up area he larboard off and that, accurate to form, his approaching chargeless bureau is hardly on his radar. Sure, Leonard has to admonish us he can play, and authorize the Raptors as a blackmail to appear out of the East. Mostly, though, Leonard is activity to be aggravating to resume the adequation that has apparent his career up to this point—and that is, for all intents and purposes, his accustomed rhythm.
I’ve accounting about this before: For years, I abominable the Spurs. The early-aughts apotheosis of the aggregation played slow, frequently animal brawl best declared as adept and, at worst, cynical. The aggregation evolved; the comedy got prettier, the clip faster, the will to win beneath perfunctory. I additionally afflicted and came to accede the Spurs’ ability and consistency. They were the league’s abundant constant, and San Antonio’s affection for waxing and crumbling fabricated them feel more, not less, durable. Far from radical, they were the league’s bedrock—its, ahem, fundamentals—insofar as about any aggregation or amateur account a abuse saw the amount there, no amount how abundant it contradicted their appearance or personality. The Spurs weren’t for everyone, except they were, insofar as anybody bare them to acclimatize themselves, to acquisition their own place.
“What makes Leonard’s beginning alpha in Toronto so alluring is that we’ve never apparent a Spur of this caliber, one so axial to that ballad and so steeped in that authorization culture, go elsewhere. Will he advance the gospel? Or will he be affected to compromise?”
Kawhi Leonard was the dest Spurs-y activity yet: A activating addition who could calmly booty over amateur by himself—the quintessential avant-garde NBA hotshot—but actually banned to accede this about himself. At one point in 2017, Popovich started active plays for Leonard based on the way the pre-dynastic Bulls acclimated Michael Jordan, and Leonard accurately went to work, exploding or improvising the calligraphy as needed…because he was told to. That’s not to say that Leonard is servile. In the aforementioned way that we clung to the Spurs as an acclimation principle, Leonard had complete acceptance in, and submitted to, the ideal of an alike cosmos area advancing into accord with rules and laws would aftermath an ideal accompaniment of calm area things were predictable, familiar, and totally, actually correct.
What makes Leonard’s beginning alpha in Toronto so alluring is that we’ve never apparent a Spur of this caliber, one so axial to that ballad and so steeped in that authorization culture, go elsewhere. Will he advance the gospel? Or will he be affected to compromise? Do the Raptors end up added like the Spurs—a alarming anticipation for an already actual acceptable team—or does Leonard added accessible up his d and maybe, in the process, aggrandize his consciousness? The absoluteness of the bearings is acceptable to be some aggregate of the two. But while over the summer this activating ability accept been apprehend as battle or tension, afterwards The Beam we apperceive that Leonard is on top of it and accessible to, for the aboriginal time in his career, actually own his situation. Instead of relying on his authorization to accouter acceptation that aligns with his appearance of the world, he’s got to booty control, ascertain himself, and acquisition new means to get into his appropriate anatomy of accent that is no accent at all. And there’s every acumen to accept that Leonard can cull this off afterwards accepting balked or confused, because afterwards all, he’s still a Spur at affection and Spurs don’t do annoyance or confusion.
It’s adverse that, at atomic for the accountable future, DeMar DeRozan—whose breakdown with a authorization and burghal he admired is a feel-bad adventure if anytime there was one—will comedy in Leonard’s shadow. He’s a top-flight NBA player, maybe alike a accepted authorization player. He’s got a attitude and assignment belief that accomplish him a abundant fit for San Antonio. But he’s not Kawhi Leonard. Leonard isn’t aloof better. Like Duncan afore him, he anchored the Spurs by so thoroughly embodying their philosophy. Leonard looked to the Spurs for direction; in a host of aberrant ways, he was a baton who affected the aforementioned role with his teammates.
Odds are that DeRozan will fit in aloof accomplished and become a archetypal Spur. That’s actual altered from Leonard, who created that arrangement for others and set an archetype for all added Spurs to follow. If there’s any abiding anguish about this trade, it’s in our alive that, alike if DeRozan gets a fair shake, he may always appear up lacking. And while no one will anytime authority this adjoin him, with him in Leonard’s abode the alliance will be that abundant beneath abiding and the apple will, for the time being, never actually accomplish sense.
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