At 1:53 a.m. on July 6 2019, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the biggest NBA news since Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors. Raptors forward, Kawhi Leonard, was leaving Toronto and heading to Los Angeles to play against Lebron James, not with him.
Two minutes later, at 1:55 a.m., Woj added to the surprise: Paul George was being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder and joining Kawhi as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. Lakers fans were disappointed. Thunder fans were dazed. Clippers fans were beyond ecstatic. The entire city of Toronto was devastated.
Toronto loved Kawhi. He brought them a long-awaited NBA championship, and they showed him unprecedented amounts of love. From standing ovations at a Toronto Blue Jays game, to thousands of petitions, emails, to phone calls begging him to stay. The people of Toronto made it clear how much Kawhi meant to them and the amount of love and adoration they had for him. They knew that LA was Kawhi's real home, so they tried to show him that Toronto was his basketball home. In Toronto, he had millions of fans that thought he was the best player in the world. He had nobody else to compete with. He was the face of the city, perhaps even the country, and yet, on July 6, 2019, the city mourned for their new hero that had left them.
Clippers fans, meanwhile, rejoiced. The hometown kid was coming home to lead the struggling franchise past their biggest rival, the Lakers, and deliver them a championship. Paul George was meant to be Pascal Siakam with a bigger name and better game. The team was built on defense, and defense wins championships, right?
Fast-forward approximately 13 months. The Toronto Raptors look like the second-best team in the East, while the Clippers struggled with the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. They managed to win the series 4-2, but are now tied with the Denver Nuggets 1-1 in the second round. Paul George has stepped up during the last few games, but could not score the first four games. The Raptors, meanwhile, are down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the first round, but rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the series 2-2 before conceding game five. Both teams are struggling, but the difference is that the Raptors are exceeding expectations while the Clippers are not playing like the team we expected.