If Kawhi Leonard is going to leave the Toronto Raptors after just one season and make his way to Los Angeles, as has been his rumoured destination, Kevin Durant doesn’t believe joining LeBron James with the Lakers would be a good fit.
“If you’re a younger player like a Kawhi, trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense,” the Golden State Warriors superstar recently told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher. “Kawhi enjoys having the ball in his hands, controlling the offence, dictating the tempo with his post-ups; it’s how he plays the game.”
According to multiple players, scouts and league executives who spoke to Bucher, Leonard and other NBA stars don’t want transform their games to play with James.
Sacrificing his own touches and stardom to accommodate James may not be something Leonard’s interested in, particularly because he seems to view James as an equal.
“What else do I have to prove? He beat me in the Finals, we came back and beat him,” Leonard said.
That the Raptors star would think himself to be every bit the player James is should come as no surprise as on his résumé boasts a Finals MVP, two All-NBA first-team selections and a pair of defensive player of the year honours. And after his brilliant 36-point, nine-rebound, five-steal performance Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, 2019 MVP is now looking like a possibility, as well.
Therefore, a player like Leonard – and other NBAers of his ilk – doesn’t really need James because, as one scout told Bucher, it might actually hurt their own brands.
“Some stars are looking at it and saying, ‘Why do I want to add to his legacy?’”
And in the process of helping James continue to add to his own illustrious career, by joining him, an established star’s abilities may end up being forgotten or diminished because of what’s required when they play with James.
“Kevin Love, he had to totally change his game to fit, to be a shooter,” said Durant. “Which, I think, he deserves way more credit for switching his game. [Chris] Bosh, same way. LeBron is a player that needs to play with guys that already know how they play the game – and shooters. Like, young players that are still developing, it’s always going to be hard because he demands the ball so much, he demands control of the offence and he creates for everybody.”
To this point, Phoenix Suns veteran role player Trevor Ariza says playing with James may be a little easier for him, but can see why someone like Leonard would want to branch out on his own.
“My role is different than [Oklahoma City Thunder star forward Paul George] and Kawhi,” Ariza said. “They ask them to do different things than they ask of me. Guys similar to [LeBron], why would they want to play with somebody who does all the same things? I can see why they would want to play elsewhere.”
The non-stop media coverage that surrounds James is also a factor that could really turn Leonard off joining LeBron with the Lakers, as well.
“So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people. He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him,” said Durant. “So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic. Especially when the attention is [expletive] attention, fluff. It’s not LeBron’s fault at all. It’s just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word.”
For what it’s worth, Leonard’s fellow Raptors all-star teammate Kyle Lowry doesn’t think it would be all that bad playing with James.
“[James] puts a lot of pressure on you, but he takes a lot of pressure off of you, too,” said Lowry. “You know what you’re getting. He’s earned that, but he’s human. If you’re a strong enough personality, you can handle it.”
Leonard likely has the personality to handle it, but that doesn’t mean he wants to.
As evidenced by the 20 games he’s played thus far as a Raptor, Leonard looks to be a big enough star to carry the responsibility of being a franchise player on his own.
Whether that means he’s sticking in Toronto or heading elsewhere is unknown, it just might not be where James is.