Azor Kawhi, King in the North
Image by @richardchen.draws
10 months ago, after months of drama surrounding his mysterious injury and fallout with the Spurs, Kawhi was traded to the Toronto Raptors in a blockbuster move that broke up the Lowry/DeRozan combo. This move shook many Toronto fans, who’d followed these BFFs through thick and thin in their annual quest for a championship.
With LeBron all but certain at the time to go West next season the NBA world was ready for a new champion in the Eastern Conference. The problem was, if Toronto as it stood could never get past the Cavs, how could it hope to stand a chance against the Warriors?
In the days leading up to the trade, hype and rumours were at a fever pitch, here at Sideline Spice we wrote about Kawhi being exactly what the Raptors need. Masai Ujiri bet the house and his reputation, and it’s paid off in spades. Four games down and the Kawhi-led Raptors are up 3-1 against Golden State, with a chance tomorrow to clinch the title at home. DeRozan, Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are watching from their couches.
Vince Carter will always be the most iconic Raptor thanks to that, now legendary, dunk contest. Chris Bosh will be the one that dragged Toronto out of despair. Lowry and the dearly departed DeRozan built the foundations of the Raptor’s team we see today; with four out of five division titles they had everything besides that one missing-not choking at the final-piece. There is no doubt that in the franchise’s 24 year history, we are already far beyond the personal bests of all the previous greats.
Whether #hestay or #hegone, if the Larry O’Brien trophy goes North or the Warriors redeem their 3-1 lead botch in 2016. Kawhi has been exactly what the Raptors need, and he is already the best Raptor of all time.
This is uncharted territory for a franchise that’s been in search of true greatness for 24 years. Lowry is the beating heart of the team, but Kawhi is without question the X-factor that has taken them to this next step. Outside of LeBron’s return to Cleveland, there is no other player in recent memory who has been as impactful in one season for a team.
Credit also needs to go to Masai Ujiri, for the Marc Gasol trade. To Nick Nurse, who is blossoming in his first long awaited chance as a head coach. To Serge Ibaka and Fred Van Vleet, readily accepting any role asked of them and going all out. To Pascal Siakam, who has risen from relative obscurity.
The best players make those around them better. Kawhis gravity on both ends of the court opens up opportunities for everyone, and the team has truly risen up to the challenge.
Azor Kawhi, the King in the North is on the verge of toppling a dynasty and potential threepeat. All without any hero balls, just quietly getting to work night in and night out. Nobody expected them to get this far, yet here we are.
Will the fun guy stay in Toronto? The northern fans initial icy demeanour has thawed from finally flying close to the sun. They now indubitably embrace Leonard and lobby for his return next year in free agency. Maybe Leonard will leave in free agency and finally satisfy his desire to go back home to Los Angeles, as his uncle/agent’s rumour mongering has long spread.
Nobody knows for sure. I do believe in my gut a lot hinges on how far this series goes. If they manage to top the Warriors Kawhi definitely stays. All signs seem to be pointing that way with rumours about Kawhi recently purchasing a house in Toronto, and his sister/publicist recently liking #hestay posts on social media.
If the Raptors win and Kawhi stays, he will become a living legend in Canada, adored by the masses ie Nick Foles in Philadelphia after Superbowl 2018, or Lebron James in Cleveland in 2017.
Whether or not these next 1-2 games are the last we ever see of Kawhi in Black and Red, he has already vaulted himself above all the others in the team’s 24 year history.