When you think of Los Angeles basketball, the Lakers probably come to mind. The Clippers, however, are trying to change that reality. During the offseason, they made a splash by acquiring both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George; now, the club needs to win an NBA Championship.
Thankfully for the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard has reached basketball’s highest heights on two separate occasions. He was able to lean on that experience and give his teammates some perspective on what it takes to be a champion.
Kawhi Leonard’s championship pedigree
Kawhi Leonard might have started out as an impressive athlete who played lockdown defense, but he’s grown by leaps and bounds. The forward is now one of the league’s top all-around stars.
After two seasons at San Diego State, Leonard entered the 2011 NBA draft. The Indiana Pacers snagged the forward in the first round but promptly flipped him to the San Antonio Spurs. He found a home in Texas, where he mainly played lockdown defense and spreading the floor, but something greater was yet to come. Head coach Gregg Popovich saw potential Leonard.
Under Popovich, the young forward continued to develop. He won his first championship in 2014, also taking home NBA Finals MVP; he followed that up with 2015 and 2016 Defensive Player of the Year honors. With each passing year, Leonard seemed more and more at home on the offensive end of the floor, driving into the paint rather than settling for outside shots.
By the time he arrived in Toronto, Leonard was ready to lead a team to the title. He did exactly that, averaging 26.6 points per game in 2018 and helping the Raptors claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Kawhi Leonard’s advice for his teammates
While Kawhi Leonard has been in and out of the lineup this season, he’s still filling a valuable role for the Los Angeles Clippers. In addition to his on-court output—the forward is currently averaging 26.3 points, 5 assists, and 7.4 rebounds per night—he’s also a veteran presence in the locker room. He’s recently been advising his teammates on what it takes to win an NBA title.
“We just can’t be in a rush,” Leonard explained. “That’s what I’m [telling them]. Just be patient. It’s hard to win a championship. The pressure isn’t even on us now. Just enjoy the process and have fun.”
“Those are the things that I tell them: Don’t be in a rush to win these games,” the forward continued. “Enjoy every moment of it. Enjoy the process and use it as a learning tool when you get down in the trenches.”
Can the Los Angeles Clippers win an NBA Championship?
While his sentiment might sound a bit cliche, Kawhi Leonard is making some excellent points. The Clippers’ ultimate goal is to win the NBA title, not have the best record in the regular season. While there are some obvious benefits to earning a higher seed, the club isn’t going to miss the playoffs; as Kawhi explained, finding a rhythm and growing as a team will matter more in the long run than the result of one regular season game.
While injuries have kept Leonard and Paul George off the court for significant portions of the season, the Clippers certainly have the talent to win the title. We’ve seen what they can do when everyone is healthy; 538 agrees, currently giving the club a 31% chance of making the NBA Finals and an 18% chance to win the whole thing.
As a sports fan, it can be easy to lose the forest through the trees and treat every game as a must-win. Kawhi Leonard is right, though. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; when the postseason arrives, the Clippers will hope they’re ready for the home stretch.