- After leading the Raptors to their first NBA championship—is Kawhi Leonard the best player in the NBA? The Open Floor podcast debates
Kawhi Leonard led Toronto to its first championship in franchise history and the debate about where he ranks on the "best player alive" list has been heating up.
In the latest Open Floor podcast, Andrew Sharp and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver discuss Leonard's current place on the NBA hierarchy, if more teams will follow his load management system and more.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: The Kawhi question I have now though is: where do you see this leading? Because he just put together one of the most incredible playoff runs we've seen in the last 20 years. He's 27 years old. Where does he rank in the league and where is he playing next year?
Ben Golliver: Are you convinced that he made himself the best player in the league this year from this series? He was the best player in these playoffs but I don't know if he was so good in this series that I'm willing to say he is the best player in the league. Now the big trick is LeBron is coming off an injury. KD is not going to be around next year so he may wear the crown by default.
Sharp: Yeah and I mean I don't know if it's by default. He just won a title and won Finals MVP and ran through the entire league. But my question with Kawhi going forward is his health and the load management stuff. I think you and I were among many people around basketball who kind of side-eyed the load management policy in Toronto and that was clearly the correct course of action given not only what he's been able to do but given the sort of nagging injuries that have slowed him down along the way that seem like they're just going to be part of the story with Kawhi going forward.
Coming out of the series, I wonder whether he's going to have to just go get surgery on his knee. That's pure speculation but just watching him move it did seem like he was slowing down and the only reason I'm reluctant to suddenly turn around and say ‘all right well this is your league now Kawhi’ because it certainly was his league for the last two months. I wonder how healthy he's going to be going forward. He's 27 but he looks at times like he's 33 or 34.
Golliver: Yeah, I just said by default because I think Kevin is still a better player if he's healthy—so that's kind of by default. With the load management stuff, again this was a question that Kawhi raised himself right? Because when he's sitting out every third game during the regular season we have to wonder is he doing that because he's trying to protect himself to get his big payday next summer. It's not necessarily just a health related decision at that point. We have to weigh all factors. You know the fact that immediately as soon as he gets traded to Toronto his first reaction is reportedly that he doesn't want to be there. So we have to view all this stuff skeptically now. Once he gets to the postseason and he's putting together game after game…
Sharp: He provided his answers on the court man.
Golliver: He sure did. And the greatest ability was availability and when his team needed him, he was very, very available. I mean there's no question about it. Now I think the more interesting question with load management is this was an extreme example of a guy who is still in his age prime taking significant time off and doing it in a systematic manner. If you're a team and you're seeing how the Warriors fell apart in the postseason with all these stars going through injuries—if you were an agent for a superstar player do you now say ‘hey this is the new cutting edge way to approach a season.’ Playing 82 games is for the birds. We just want to play 55 to 60 enough to get in the postseason and then we'll settle it there.
Sharp: You know what? That might work like rather than shorten the season which forces the league to sacrifice all kinds of money. They are never going to do that. If the entire league just starts to approach the regular season a little bit differently—I mean this is one where I'm speaking as someone who knows soccer via FIFA video game strictly.
Golliver: So the A.I. forces you to rest your guys every three days? Laughs
Sharp: Yes, it works in the Premier League with all the cup matches and everything else, that is how teams are gonna start approaching the regular season. And basketball fans are going to have to learn to be okay with that. There's a lot of people who will suddenly start to cry for like that average fans who go to these games and I think everyone's an adult and people can adjust their expectations accordingly.
Golliver: So it also seems like the kind of thing though where other people will try to copy it and it will like backfire and they'll just like miss the playoffs. Because there was a lot of things that had to go right with the rest of Toronto's roster for them to still be in such a dominant position with resting Kawhi.