There are players who are returning the next season from injury or maybe suspensions. After not having shot a basketball in an NBA game for months, expectations will be riding high on their return. Some are even returning to championship contending teams. Even among those players are a very few players who have a lot at stake in the coming season.
Leonard’s time with the Spurs
Kawhi Leonard happens to be one of those. The status that Leonard has reached right now is nothing short of spectacular. When he was drafted in the league by the Indiana Pacers he was a very capable defender who just needed to work on his offensive skill set. He was traded to the San Antonio Spurs immediately which was a boon in disguise.
It was in Spurs that he developed his game. His defense was good and it got even better but his astronomical increase in scoring that got him attention. Plus playing with greats like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili really helped him improve on his playstyle.
Leonard helped the Spurs make the Finals and spar against the Miami Heat trio. They lost their first Finals matchup between them but not the next time. Leonard evolved and took care of LeBron in the 2014 finals. His defense on LeBron was the turning point in the series and hence he won the NBA Finals MVP.
The Spurs in that time were ageing and they led Leonard drive the team. He made his first All-Star appearance in the 2015-16 season. He consistently led the Spurs to the playoffs in that time but was unable to make that break well mostly because of the Golden State Warriors.
But in the 2016-17 season, it seemed like Leonard would be the Achilles heel to the Warriors and he might have successfully succeeded if not for the injury. In a play where he took the shot from the corner 3-point line, Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia had his foot in Leonard’s landing space. Leonard injured his ankles and had to sit out for the remainder of the series. Plus he got wrongly diagnosed on his foot so he packed his bags and got ready to leave the Spurs.
The stint with the Raptors
The next time Leonard played was when he was with the Toronto Raptors. Despite him moving, nobody picked the Raptors to be the favorites to win despite having a deep team. Leonard made his next All-Star appearance after injury but he used to sit out of games.
In the playoffs however, Leonard appeared. With LeBron James out of the East, the Raptors crushed their opponents with Leonard having one of the most dramatic buzzer beaters of all time. They made a date with the Warriors and beat them in 6 games to lift the championship. Leonard won his second Finals MVP.
The stakes are higher than ever
He then decided to head to Los Angeles. Despite numerous offers from the Lakers, Leonard settled with the Clippers. This time however, it was different. Fans had huge expectations from him and the spotlight was on him considering he moved to the same city as LeBron James but as rivals.
How did Leonard respond? By blowing a 3-1 lead in the second round of the playoffs against the up and coming Denver Nuggets. He tried again and this time led the Clippers to the playoffs but suffered a season ending injury in the middle of the playoffs.
The next time Leonard is setting foot on the court, he will be having a crowd like no other. The Clippers have even reinvented their team and this time no excuses can be made. He will have the most pressure to perform this time and anything short of a championship will counted as failure!