Is Kawhi Leonard Still a Top-10 Player in the NBA?

There has been much debate about Kawhi Leonard's current standing within the NBA hierarchy. After an ugly divorce with the Spurs, The Open Floor Podcast crew goes behind the process of leaving him off the top 10 players of 2019.
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When The Crossover released its Top 100 NBA players of 2019, we received a lot of comments from readers about Kawhi Leonard landing at No. 12. Yes, if Kawhi plays to his capabilities he is a top-five caliber player in the league. But in terms of the last calendar year, it is hard to pinpoint a superstar that has had a worse year than Kawhi. He completely alienated the Spurs organization and the unknown details about his injury are still concerning as he prepares for his next chapter with the Toronto Raptors.

The Open Floor podcast crew was joined by SI Top 100 co-creator Rob Mahoney to discuss the reasoning behind Kawhi's fall on the top 100.

(Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

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Andrew Sharp: Kawhi Leonard at 12….

Ben Golliver: If you want to accuse us of hot takes, this was our hottest take.

Sharp: I loved it! I love that Raptors fans are still pissed off at Ben Golliver. I don’t know how much you guys watch the reactions to some of this but there was Raptors fans screenshotting Golliver’s Kawhi blurb and it was all just fantastic. Look, I agree with you guys at having him at 12.

Golliver: Really?

Sharp: I think…

Golliver: Wait. Wait. Really? So if you would have done this, you would have said Kawhi is not a top 10 player?

Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. Are you kidding me?

Rob Mahoney: Okay, let’s stop and wrap it up now. We are not getting anything better than that.

Golliver: This is amazing. I thought you were going to go the other way.

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Sharp: Kawhi either missed 18 months with an injury that no one can explain—and that is really concerning—or he just quit on a really good Spurs team and a lot of great teammates. He didn’t communicate with the team or the media and is now in Toronto. It is kind of amazing that we still haven’t heard from him since coming to Toronto. There are some real reasons to be cautious about Kawhi hype.

Golliver: That picture in Toronto did have a staged moon landing vibe.

Sharp: He looked like a hostage.

Golliver: Like, are we sure that was in Toronto?

Sharp: I want to be clear: I am not anti-Raptors at all but I do think it is absolutely incredible that Raptors fans are already completely in the tank for the Kawhi is on KD's level buzz. They were all making that case and they were all like 'Are you kidding me Kawhi is not even in the top 10?'Take it down a notch. Let him play a month before turning into full-fledged termites.

Golliver: You flipped this whole entire podcasts’ vibe with this take, Andrew. I was so frustrated with you until about 30 seconds ago and now just listening to you speak truth, the broken clock was right on this one. I am proud of you.

Sharp: It’s just really incredible to me that they are all the way off the deep end for Kawhi.

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Golliver: Hey Rob can you explain—when we were looking in the range for Kawhi—we were looking around 7-12 when we were first walking through it and the guys who didn’t have any injury questions had to be ahead of him. And the guys who have those questions were going to be behind him. When we were parsing him against the likes of Jimmy Butler or Paul George or Embiid—what was our thought process behind keeping him off the top 10? Because it is the health stuff that Andrew mentioned but it is also the reliability factor as well right?

Mahoney: Yeah. It’s about which of those guys are going to show up. Honestly, that is a very understated part when you are looking at the comparisons of those players. Like, yeah, those guys are going to be injured. Jimmy Butler is going to miss some games. Paul George has been largely healthy since his leg injury. But he might miss some time but at least those guys are going to be available and part of your ecosystem.

I think the one thing we rated very consistently over the life of doing these lists, it’s the guys who give you that organizational structure; it’s the Steph Curry guys, the Tim Duncan guys and these guys who gives an organization something to build around. Not when your best player bails on you over the course of the season or if a player has an 18-month injury that is beyond concerning. I think you are going to take a pretty significant sting from that.

I think if at any point in your career you make Manu Ginobli call a meeting about your status, that is just an automatic 5-7 rank dig.

Sharp: You are 10 spots lower if you piss off Manu.

Golliver: Looking back at it with the benefit of time, the way Kawhi conducted himself was absolutely apprehensible. It was just awful. Step-by-step he made so many poor decisions and I think he has to pay the price for that.

Sharp: Can I say that it is borderline demeaning to not crush for him that? Anyone else in his position, we would be like take ownership of your life. Call a press conference. Communicate with the team. He did not do any of that and people are like that is just the way Kawhi is wired.

Golliver: That doesn’t work if you are the franchise guy.