Outside of his excellent, MVP-calibre level of play this season, the No. 1 talking point in regards to Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard has been the cautious approach the team’s taken to the games he plays.
Coming off a quadriceps injury that saw him play just nine games last season – and ultimately led to the dispute that enabled the Raptors to trade for him from San Antonio – Leonard has only played 24 of the Raptors’ 32 games this season, missing this time mainly because he has yet to play both games when the team has back-to-backs and, most recently, with a bruised hip that he’s appeared to recover from fine.
Sitting with an NBA-best 23-9 record, and 7-1 without him, the Raptors haven’t exactly needed him, but considering the fact the team is plus-157 when he’s on the court compared to just a plus-84 when he’s off it this season, it’s understandable that most would prefer to see him play even a little more frequently than they do now.
With that said, the decision to give Leonard rest days, according to Raptors general manager Bobby Webster, is all part of a plan that both the Raptors and Leonard have collaborated together on, and could be something that pays dividends for the team moving forward.
“As far as the medical staff and his health, I think that’s been one of the huge advantages that we’ve had so far,” Webster said on Sportsnet 590 the FAN Wednesday morning. “We know to the nth degree with our staff and they’re in constant communication with him even dating back to July when we first met with him after the trade. And that’s just a testament to any sort of healthcare – whether it’s for a professional athlete or for yourself. They’ve been attentive basically on everything and listened to him.
“Obviously, coming into the season he wanted to be healthy, we all need him to be healthy, we all wanted him to play at his best. So managing that, as you can imagine, is going to be a huge organizational task and we’ve taken it head on. So I’m really proud of what the organization has done so far and I continue to want to behave in that way going forward.”
For the Raptors this season, no matter how well they perform during the regular season, they will only be judged by how they perform in the post-season. As such, playing the long game and prioritizing Leonard for May seems like the smarter move than just worrying about what’s happening now.
This attention to detail the Raptors are paying to Leonard’s health may also reward them with Leonard opting to re-sign with the club come July. The 27-year-old is expected to opt out of his current contract at season’s end to become an unrestricted free agent and, given what the Raptors did to bring him to Toronto in the first place, they’ll be looking for any edge they can take to ensure he remains with them.
Leonard is averaging 26.3 points and 8.4 rebounds on 49.1 per cent shooting and a 38.1 per cent mark from deep this season.
You can listen to Webster’s entire appearance on Sportsnet 590 the FAN in the radio player seen above.