After a couple whirlwind months of both NHL and NBA free agency, The 6ix’s sports scene will embody not one, but two new superstars. John Tavares to the Maple Leafs is the feel-good, homecoming story that bolsters an already dangerous Leafs squad, while disgruntled former-Spurs star Kawhi Leonard landed with the Raptors via a trade (along with Danny Green) that sent beloved All-Star DeMar DeRozan off to Texas (along with Jakob Poeltl and a heavily protected 2019 1st-round pick).
The debate as to who will have the bigger impact on their individual teams, is an interesting one. In short, while Tavares is categorized as a legitimate superstar in the National Hockey League and will continue to be that for the Leafs, it will actually be Leonard that will have the greater overall impact on the Raptors (even though I still feel Tavares will give the Leafs some serous fuel for a deep Stanley Cup run).
As for my rationale.
Kawhi Leonard is a multiple finalist for the NBA’s MVP Award and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Adding him establishes instant defensive credibility to a Raptors team, who, even though they finished first in the Eastern Conference last season, were given very little chance to make noise deep into the playoffs. With perennial roadblock LeBron James vacated to Los Angeles, the Celtics and Sixers remain as the other two “power” teams in the conference. The DeRozan-Lowry Era was one thing, but the Raptors HAVE to be taken more seriously now.
Even Stephen A. Smith can’t deny the strength of this team, or country, for that matter:
— Active Stick (@oak_leafs) July 18, 2018
The National Basketball Association is a league where one player can make all the difference (take that King James guy for reference). Along with elite defense, Leonard has also proven to be an elite scorer (his points per game average has increased every season of his career up to 25.5 last year). And no, the 9 games last season don’t count. He is a complete player. A superstar. An actual upgrade over the beloved DeMar DeRozan. The only outstanding question now is if he will he actually show up for the Raptors?
The reason the Toronto Raptors (even after the addition of Leonard) are not going to be considered a true championship contender is quite obvious; we are in the midst of the Golden State Warriors Super Team Era, where no team will realistically be able to contend with that juggernaut. Period, end of story.
Meanwhile, over at Leaf Land headquarters, John Tavares adds a superior skill set and experience to an already-potent roster of youthful stars. With his addition, the Maple Leafs now have the most intimidating center ice core in the entire NHL. Tavares (37), Auston Matthews (34) and Nazem Kadri (32) ALL scored more than 30 goals each last season. Some quick math says… 103 goals! And that’s just down the middle of the ice. Toss in Patrick Marleau (27), Mitch Marner (22) and William Nylander (20), and you have an additional 69 goals. From only six players, the Leafs would have 172 goals. If knowing that you have to account for, and defend, those centers alone, doesn’t scare the rest of the NHL, it certainly should. And yes, the Toronto defense absolutely needs to be improved. But if the puck spends most of the time in the other team’s zone, your defense isn’t “as much” of a liability.
The Raptors got better, and perhaps just enough to tip the scales and make it all the way to an illustrious NBA Finals appearance, where they’ll have the opportunity to get destroyed by the Warriors. Even without Tavares, the Leafs had depth, but now, it’s downright frightening with JT in his hometown. Kawhi will have the more immediate and biggest influence on his team (at least for one season), but the Leafs have the more promising big picture after installing a dynamic core to win a Stanley Cup THIS season, and perhaps a couple more.