Lakers: I thought Kawhi was better than LeBron James – An apology

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are in the NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers are not.

It’s very seldom I find myself completely whiffing on this subject while the likes of FS1’s Nick Wright hit the nail on the head and basks in the glory. I’ll chalk it up to it being 2020. But indeed, ahead of this year’s NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, myself and plenty of others are eating crow with a slice of humble pie.

The reason being is for declaring Kawhi Leonard the baddest man playing basketball on planet Earth since his stellar 2019 championship run and maintaining that belief up until the Clippers’ recent untimely collapse.

A mouthful with LeBron James unquestionably holding that title for a decade-plus. It’s a viewpoint which has obviously now aged as poorly as Leonard’s “We got now” in Los Angeles New Balance commercial that aired right before this season began.

Both LeBron and Kawhi led their teams to a 3-1 lead over the feisty Denver Nuggets in these playoffs. On Saturday night, LeBron shut the door on Denver’s season, scoring 16 points in the fourth to put them away, highlighting a 38-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist outing in Game 5 to advance to his tenth career NBA Finals; third all-time behind Celtic greats Bill Russell and Sam Jones.

Meanwhile ol Kawhi and company blew back-to-back 15-point second-half leads to lose games 5 and 6 to Denver when up 3-1. Then, with the whole nation waiting on them to come through in Game 7, Kawhi, Paul “Pandemic P”, Lemon Pepper Lou Williams, run around Pat Beverly, and 3-1 lead phobic Doc Rivers came up small in the biggest upset in NBA history.

Kawhi played outstanding through most of the first six games of the Denver series, and so most of the blame fell on Rivers and George as it should’ve. But, Kawhi went scoreless in that fourth quarter of Game 7 with their season in the balance.

With LeBron James advancing against the same squad in a gentleman’s sweep, without the depth Kawhi had at his disposal, it just puts Kawhi ultimately being number two in focus.

Now, in this business, it’s okay to reshape an opinion after new data flows in. Throughout last season, Kawhi’s playoff run with LeBron sitting at home missing the playoffs, although it was due to his Christmas Day groin injury, had a serious effect as a viewer.

No one right-minded would deny LeBron has sustained as more the versatile offensive player, from a scoring repertoire standpoint and clearly a facilitating standpoint.

But, seeing the evolution of Kawhi offensively, being able to operate from the elbow, mid-post, and three-point line, using an improved ball-handling ability to patiently get to his spot and score with ease, all while being a knockdown free throw shooter, is something he had little to no capability of when he was drafted in 2011. Quite impressive.

Couple his absurd, steady offensive glow up with him being one of the very best defenders this league has ever seen, and the very best at his small forward position along with Scottie Pippen, although I’m ashamed over this development I still think at the time the argument was there to be had, even if it was never true.

The defensive discrepancy was the biggest glaring advantage Kawhi had. With LeBron taking more defensive plays off last year than he ever had, understandably certainly with all the mileage that comes with then nine finals appearances, but it couldn’t be ignored.

With Kawhi’s capabilities of scoring just as efficiently with even less usage while being an all-time great defender that LeBron isn’t close to at that point, it was fair.

But in the end, if you can’t sustain possessing the crown’s worth you got to step off the throne.

With Kawhi’s Clippers falling by the wayside to the Nuggets, on top of Toronto impressing this season without him and being eliminated just one game shy of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, and lastly remembering the derailing injuries Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson endured during the NBA finals Kawhi won with Toronto, all somewhat diminishing the accomplishments that headlined the argument for Kawhi being the top dog.

As it turns out, LeBron James is actually going on a full decade and a half of being the best player in basketball. Through the Bush to Obama to Trump administration, from my early childhood to early adulthood, he’s been the model of sustained greatness and in the basketball driver’s seat. Unbelievable.

Maybe I have to admit on top of Kawhi’s two-way greatness and argument to be made for him as the best, it’s also true that in any industry, you’re desperately seeking the shiny new thing to dub “next up”. This is a prime example as we jumped the gun on this, and for that LeBron James, I am very sorry.