There’s a lot at stake for Kawhi Leonard.
For a guy some considered as the best player in the world just a few seasons ago, Leonard’s fall from elite-level grace has come pretty fast.
After leading the Raptors to a championship in 2019, Leonard hasn’t lived up to expectations as a transcendent star for the Clippers. He and Paul George were both horrendous down the stretch during Game 7 of the 2020 Western Conference semifinals against Denver, when they folded a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets. They also allowed a double-digit lead to evaporate in the second half of a closeout Game 76.
It was supposed to be the Lakers and Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, fighting for a chance to eventually be crowned the best team in basketball but Leonard and the Clippers lacked in dramatic fashion. The performance immediately pulled Leonard from any conversation about being the best player in the game.
And now a relatively unimpressive regular season — where he missed almost 30 games and his team was overshadowed by Phoenix and Utah — has Leonard in a position where he must prove himself once again.
So far he’s off to a bad start, his squad dropped the first game of the first round to Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks in a game where Leonard went 9-for-22 from the field and 1-for-6 from three-point range.
In a conference playoff that’s as wide open as it’s ever been in the last decade, Leonard has an opportunity to lift himself back into the conversation for the best player in the game. He still has the versatile offensive skill set and defensive prowess that can lead a team to prominence. We’ve already seen it. Now, he just has to do it again.
Leonard will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer no matter the outcome of the rest of his career. However, there are levels to Hall of Fame talent. If he wants to have his name mentioned with the upper echelon of NBA greats and take the thrown as the best player in the game like he was close to doing in 2019, he needs to make sure his squad doesn’t fold…. again.