Kawhi Not?: The Fadeaway Game 7 Winner that Could Change The NBA Landscape

History was made last night, and potentially changed the course of history for so many involved. Kawhi Leonard’s fadeaway shot form the right corner, over the seven foot Joel Embiid, that bounced around the rim four times before finally dropping through the net, is the only Game 7 game winning shot in history. The whole scene is something out of a Hollywood production: the dramatic bounce, the anxious pause by the crowd, both the Raptors and 76ers just waiting to celebrate a win or mourn the loss. But beyond the heart breaking loss for the 76ers, the fallout of Kawhi’s  game winner could change the NBA as we know it.

The First Bounce:

Kawhi Leonard is Possibly a Toronto Raptor For Life After Last Night

Kawhi Leonard elevating over Joel Embiid to hit the heavily contested game winner

Kawhi Leonard did not become a Toronto Raptor by choice. Last offseason Leonard requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs in hopes of playing for his hometown with wither the Los Angeles Lakers or Los Angeles Clippers. But the Spurs and Coach Gregg Popovich did him no favors for wanting out of San Antonio by shipping him out of the country to Toronto. It is unknown what Leonard’s plans are going forward but he seems to be enjoying his time up north in Toronto. People are still linking Leonard to Los Angeles with his upcoming free agency this summer but with every playoff win and iconic moments in that Raptors jersey, the chances of Leonard resigning would perceivably increase. Which is what makes last night’s game winner evermore important.

As that all initially bounces off the rim, the thought of it missing and sending the game to overtime would have demoralized the Raptors. The possession prior to the clutch shot, Kawhi missed the second free throw that would have extended the lead to three points, forcing the 76ers to hit a contested three just to tie the game. If the game winning shot would have also clanked off the rim, and the Raptors went on to lose in overtime, the chances of Leonard leaving are astronomically higher. There would be no iconic moment for Kawhi in a Raptors jersey, some would have labeled him as a choker for missing the free throw and then the game winner. But thankfully for the fanbase up North, all of that was voided by Kawhi’s clutch shot that sent the team to the Conference Finals, and possibly extends Kawhi’s time as a Raptor from a one year rental to franchise player for years to come.

The Second Bounce:

Ramifications For the 76ers: “Trust The Process or Blow it Up?”

TORONTO, ON – MAY 12: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on as Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with teammates after sinking a buzzer beater to win Game Seven of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

As the ball bounces off the rim again, a million things are running through the minds of the 76ers front office. Do we continue to “Trust the Process or blowing up?”, “Can head coach Brett Brown be the one too lead us to a championship?”, “Do we retain Jimmy Butler and/or Tobias Harris?”

It is crazy to think that a team that came a fadeaway, rim bouncing, buzzer beater, from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since Allen Iverson led them there in 2001, could decide to blow up the core of the team, but it is on the table. The Philadelphia 76ers coined the phrase “trust the process” at the beginning of this decade in hopes they would find transcendent talents to build around. Well as the decade closes out, they kind of got their wishes after years of losing. Joel Embiid, the seven foot center who can dominate the paint and stretch out to knock down the three point shot, while protecting the rim on defense, is what every team would love to have. Ben Simmons, a 6’10” point forward proved he can run an offense and do just about anything outside of hitting a jumpshot beyond 10 feet. Trusting the process has kind of worked out, but the two players do not compliment each others playing styles at all. If your two best players don’t blend well then a move needs to be made on one of them, or Ben Simmons can develop a jump shot. Either way something has to give.

As for Head Coach Brett Brown, his future was up in the air coming into the playoffs as the win now pressure was put on his shoulders. The front office went out and traded some of their future for win now players in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. A second round exit is not what they were aiming for when they made those moves. Brett Brown did himself no favors late in the fourth quarter of game 7 with three consecutive plays ending in shot clock violations. The Kawhi shot was the official end to the Brett Brown era, but the true dagger was the play coming out of his called time out that resulted in a shot clock violation, turning the tide of the game. I would be surprised to see Brett Brown coaching the team next season.

Now we have Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris as unrestricted free agents. I would assume the front office ants to bring back both of them as they gave up assets to bring these guys in here to help win a championship. However it is feasible that one or even both guys just walk and sign elsewhere, really leaving the 76ers in a tough place. Unlike Kawhi, I’m not sure advancing or losing this series would have swayed either of these guys to come back or not, but in a deep free agency class, Butler and Harris have options. If I had to guess one of them return.

The Third Bounce:

The NBA Landscape May have Just Changed

Kawhi, Embiid, and everyone else watching to see if the shot will drop

Rewind to a year ago, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were the teams with the brightest future, and best chance to run the Eastern Conference for the next decade. Well today after that shot by Kawhi, the 76ers appear to be in a state of flux while the Boston Celtics will most likely lose Kyrie Irving. The Eastern Conference now appears to be in the hands of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors? The first part of that statement is a given as Giannis is locked in for years in Milwaukee. Kawhi in Toronto is still up in the air but it sure does feel possible now.

Going forward, reading into the reports for upcoming free agency, the NBA balance of power is shifting from West to East very quickly. Giannis in Milwaukee, Kawhi in Toronto, Embiid and Simmons in Philly, Boston has a young core in Tatum and Brown, and the lousy New York Knicks have a “95% chance” to land both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving according to Stephen A. Smith. If this is the case, the Eastern Conference will have five teams in position to compete for a championship after years of being ran by one individual in Lebron James.

The Western Conference may very well dry up. A weakened Golden State Warriors dynasty, LeBron and who in a Lakers jersey, Portland with Dame and CJ, Denver with Nikola Jokic, and of course James Harden in Houston.

I bring up the shift in power because it is very feasible that Kawhi was making his way out west if that shot doesn’t drop. If Kawhi goes out west, chances are he is going with another star free agent, a Durant, Kyrie or Jimmy Butler. But  with Kawhi stays in Toronto, the balance of power is all the way in favor of the Eastern Conference.

The shot by Kawhi could have just derailed the Los Angeles Clippers plans. They traded Tobias Harris with the idea that they were almost a lock to sign Kawhi. They did not see the Raptors going on a tear and possibly swaying Kawhi to stay in Canada opposed to coming home to California. But the bond, the brother hood that is built through adversity and the iconic moment like a game 7 game winning shot is tough to breakup.

The Fourth Bounce:

The Ball Dropping Through the Net Symbolize’s the NBA

Celebration and defeat caught in one shot after the shot drops.

The NBA has been on the rise in popularity for years, but the narrative that the NBA playoffs would lack interest because LeBron James missed the playoffs for the first time in forever. But let’s sit back and analyze the playoffs thus far. Damian Lillard’s 37 foot game winner to send Russell Westbrook and Paul George home, putting an end to an entertaining series. Brooklyn and Philadelphia gave us drama on and off the floor. Three series went seven games (Spurs vs. Nuggets, Nuggets vs Portland, 76ers vs Raptors). Iconic series clinching buzzer beaters: Damian Lillard 37 foot game winner to send Westbrook and Paul George, and of course Kawhi Leonard’s game winner last night. We had the “run it back” series with defending champion Golden State Warriors defeating the Houston Rockets. That series had even more drama with Durant injured in game 5, and the Rockets battle with the referee’s early in the series. We seen the rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard, the emergence of the Brooklyn Nets, and the fight of the unknown Los Angeles Clippers. All of that happened in just the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs, and we still have two more rounds of great matchups left to go. At any point while watching the playoffs did you sit there and say “man I miss Lebron James,” then you can’t appreciate great basketball and storylines when it is right in front of you.

The final bounce of the ball off the rim, Kawhi Leonard squatting, Joel Embiid reluctantly peeking around the backboard awaiting the ball to drop through the net is the ultimate drama and symbolized the NBA Playoffs. The sport is loved for the play and players, but what elevates basketball to a new level is the storylines and drama, and last night was the perfect example of how four dramatic seconds, one shot, can captivate the sports world.

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