The “Summer of Kawhi?” Seriously, this is an idea the Toronto Maple Leafs should avoid like the plague. It is so perfectly ridiculous, and I wish I would have thought of it.
To be direct, the idea is simplistic, ignores reality, and I believe the Maple Leafs shouldn’t even consider going there. Furthermore, if you even think the team would embrace this idea, they won’t.
The kicker is that, even on the odd chance that it did work and brought a Stanley Cup title to the team, it’s more of a gamble than following the course the team is currently on, as revolting as staying the course is for many Maple Leafs’ fans.
The Raptors Were Four Bounces from Elimination
As an idea for winning a Stanley Cup, the “Summer of Kawhi” makes no sense. To go right to the end and where the NBA’s Toronto Raptors are today; it’s fortunate that the Raptors won the NBA championship because that decision eventually eliminated them from contesting for another NBA championship for several seasons. They are once again starting to become a good team, but they can’t win the championship again with the team they have. It will take years for them to be a legitimate contender again.
Even that single championship almost wasn’t – sort of like a pair of Game 6 high-sticking penalties that wouldn’t have been called instead of that would have been called. It all depended upon one very lucky bounce (well actually four bounces) when the Raptors were tied 90-90 in Game 7 with seconds left and Kawhi threw up a buzzer-beater that (honestly) bounced off the rim four times before it went thru the net.
The History of Kawhi in Toronto (with the Raptors)
In July 2018, NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard – who had helped his San Antonio Spurs win the 2013-14 NBA championship and was named finals MVP, came on the NBA market. He was desperate to leave the San Antonio Spurs because he believed he had been mistreated over the seriousness of a quad injury he had suffered.
The Spurs’ doctors had cleared him to play, but his own doctors advised him not to. After back-and-forth rising tensions and continued disagreement over his injury, Kawhi asked for and could not be talked out of a trade. He eventually forced the team to trade him, which they did. He landed with the Raptors.
Kawhi came to the Toronto Raptors. In exchange, the Raptors sent Demar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round draft pick for Kawhi and Danny Green. It eventually led to the Raptors’ first (and only) NBA championship.
The NHL Is Not the NBA
As an accurate example, the summer of Kawhi simply doesn’t work when it comes to NHL hockey (versus NBA basketball). That’s because, in NBA basketball, you have five players on the court at one time and stars typically play almost all of the game (maybe about 85 percent of it).
In NHL hockey, you have six players on the ice at one time and one player – unless he’s a defenseman whose main job is primarily is NOT to score but to defend – seldom plays one-third of the game. One player cannot dominate a hockey game in the same way he can dominate a basketball game.
Furthermore, currently, there’s no game-changer on the market. No Wayne Gretzky in 1988 is headed to Los Angeles. Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby (who’s probably aged out on this idea) are the only two skaters I believe who could fit. Perhaps Andrei Vasilevskiy in the crease? Of course, it might work the other way if Auston Matthews (probably not even Mitch Marner and certainly not William Nylander) were to demand a trade out of town.
Still, I wish I would have thought of the phrase “Summer of Kawhi.” It has received a lot of traction and attention and, as you can see, even someone who thinks it’s ludicrous (me) is engaging it.
The Metaphor Carries with It a Deeper Wager
However, the metaphor works in one way. At its core is the question of what one team might wager to win it all – if only for one season. Specifically, would one team trade one of its absolutely key, best, and favorite players for an absolute game-changer on the very risky move of selling the team’s heart and soul for a single season of success knowing that the team would likely fall into the cellar seasons after?
All did not end well for the Raptors. In 2018-19, they were lucky enough to win the NBA championship. Kawhi stayed for one season, then went home to play in California. The next season (2019-20), keeping together most of the players the Raptors had put collected for their championship season, they had one more strong season and swept a postseason series against the Brooklyn Nets. However, they lost to the Boston Celtics in round two. Things haven’t been the same since.
Next, the team began to lose many of its best players, started a rebuild, tanked, and put together only a 27-45 record. Last season, the Raptors had a surprisingly good and winning season again of 48-34, but then lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in round one.
The Raptors are still rebuilding. They have a small core and are collecting good young players once more, but are nowhere near the powerhouse they were in their championship season. By the way, the player the Raptors traded away in DeRozan had a career season with the Chicago Bulls. He’s landed well and undoubtedly many would love to see him back in Toronto.
In the end, the Raptors were extremely lucky. They mortgaged the future, got lucky enough to win it all, and then all but disappeared within a season of being a contender. Perhaps the possibility of another huge parade in Toronto would be worth risking the team’s future – which is what the Raptors did. I’m not so sure the Maple Leafs are – or should be – willing to take that risk.
If the Maple Leafs Won, Would They Win or Would They Lose?
Winning the NBA championships was pure luck. The basketball could have bounced three times on the rim and fell off, and the team would have lost to the 76ers. The idea of a “Summer of Kawhi” would make no sense.
In the same way, the referee might have seen the Game 6 phantom high-sticking call on David Kampf differently and the Lightning would have been eliminated and the Maple Leafs would likely be heading to the Eastern Conference finals.
Although there was one season of success, the Raptors are only now starting to fight their way out of the hole to become a contender once again. Really, is that the risk Maple Leafs’ fans want their team to take?
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf