Kawhi’s one year with the Raptors will go down as one of the best single seasons a player has had with a team in NBA history. Even at the time, the Leonard – DeRozan trade seemed like a smart move by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, but it was for from meaning the Raptors had a championship team on their hands.
During the entire San Antonio saga, it became apparent Kawhi wanted out of San Antonio and that LA teams were his preferred destination. When he got traded even to the other side of the continent, much farther from home to one of the coldest NBA cities, his commitment was doubtful. Still nursing an injury, why would he go all-in for the Raptors if he plans to leave in a year?
According to Raptors coach Nick Nurse, he didn’t. In a story for The Athletic, Eric Koreen sat down with a few players and coach Nurse to talk about last year’s success. Here’s how Nurse saw Kawhi’s leadership in Toronto (via The Athletic):
I think we were probably 13-4 or something and we were having a little meeting about how the offen
se was running, and he kind of stepped up and said to the team, “This is how I see it.” He couldn’t have said it better, for me. It was perfect.
That’s when Nurse knew Kawhi felt like a Raptor. He spoke up and engaged with teammates about their game and style of play. But, that still didn’t mean Nurse was confident Kawhi would go all-out in the playoffs and sacrifice for the team. Despite going for 30 a night, Nurse felt there was a higher gear Kawhi wasn’t hitting:
I’m not sure I ever said this publicly last year, but about February of last year, I was like: “He’s not playing to his full capabilities. He’s cruising to his 30 points a night.” I figured it could go one of two ways. He was gonna cruise on out of here or he was going to flip a switch and try to win the whole damn thing. Obviously, we saw what happened.
Yes, we did. They won the whole damn thing, and despite leaving for LA, Kawhi won’t pay a drink in Toronto for the rest of his life.