Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard is averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game this season. His stellar play has helped lead to Toronto Raptors to the league’s best record at 31-12.

It is no secret that Houston’s James Harden and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo are the current frontrunners for the 2019 NBA MVP award. Harden has been terrifying opposing defenses. The bearded wonder leads the league in scoring at 33.7 points per game. He recently dropped more than 40 points in five-straight victories for the Rockets.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.6 points, 12.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.6 blocks per game this season. The Bucks have hovered near the top spot in the East all season after finishing seventh in the East a season ago. 

As we approach midseason though, it would be plain foolish to overlook Kawhi Leonard, the cornrowed King of the North, in the race for MVP.

So far this season, Leonard is averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game. While the numbers may be slightly less gaudy than the two frontrunners’, Leonard is just as important to his team’s success.

Tuesday night, the Raptors found themselves down 101-100 with less than 30 seconds remaining in a nail biter with the Atlanta Hawks. Leonard, who scored 31 points in the game, came up with two huge defensive plays down the stretch to secure a 104-101 victory.

First, Leonard earned a steal when he picked DeAndre' Bembry’s pockets on a play that led to a dunk by Serge Ibaka that eventually proved to be the game winner. Next, with the game on the line, the 6-foot-7 small forward defended the Hawks’ speedy point guard Trae Young. Leonard’s tight defense forced Young into a tough layup attempt, which he missed, sealing the Raptors win.

As of Wed., the Raptors hold the league’s best record at 31-12.

Many did not imagine this outcome when Leonard was traded from the San Antonio Spurs during the offseason. Leonard initially appeared unhappy with the trade to Toronto. The former two-time Defensive Player of the Year made no secret that he desired to play in Los Angeles (preferably the Clippers). Cold Toronto is just about as far away from sunny L.A. as one can get.

Once the season began though, it appeared that Leonard became more content in Canada. He has seemingly developed into the vocal leader that many say he struggled to become in San Antonio.

"He's definitely more vocal than he's ever been, on and off the court," teammate Danny Green told Josh Lewenberg of TSN back in October. "It looks like he feels comfortable. It looks like he feels at home."

Let’s be real. There’s still a chance that Leonard could chuck deuces to Toronto at the end of the season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. One has to believe though than an NBA MVP award and a trip to the NBA Finals could prove quite persuasive to Leonard that Toronto is the place to be.

McCaw saga continues 

Last week I wrote about Patrick McCaw signing a two-year, $6 million offer sheet with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The signing ended a long holdout for McCaw with the Golden State Warriors when team declined to match the offer sheet.

The signing initially seemed like a win/win for McCaw. He landed on a team where he would have an opportunity to earn significant minutes and collect a salary larger than the one(s) offered by the Warriors. However, the asterisk was that the Cavs had until January 7 to decide whether to guarantee McCaw’s deal. They didn’t.

The Cavaliers released McCaw on Sunday, paving the way for the St. Louis native to become an unrestricted free agent. McCaw averaged 1.7 points and one rebound in three games for the Cavs.

The move raised eyebrows around the league. Various executives wondered if the Cavs signed McCaw to an offer sheet simply to help free him from the Warriors. According to the Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Warriors made a formal request with the NBA to investigate the signing “for possible salary cap circumvention.”

Patrick McCaw

Patrick McCaw was waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers after just a week. The move prevented McCaw’s two-year, $6 million from becoming guaranteed. The NBA will investigate whether the signing violated the league’s salary cap circumvention rules.

The league will apparently oblige the Warriors’ request and look into whether the Cavs violated league rules by signing then releasing McCaw.

Various sources have reported that the Cavs front office is interested in re-signing McCaw at a significantly lower amount than the initial $6 million offer. Now that the league has opened an investigation, that opportunity could potentially fade away.

Still, McCaw will find a new home, somewhere in the NBA. He’ll likely be looking at a league minimum contract as an unrestricted free agent. But he will have the opportunity to choose his destination, which is what he desired in the first place.

(Update: After clearing waivers, McCaw will sign a one-year contract for the veterans minimum with the Toronto Raptors according to ESPN.)

His week with the Cavs netted him $323,529 according to the Times. Not bad for a week’s worth of work.

Meanwhile, Cavaliers executives are probably sweating bullets right now. If the team is found guilty of breaking the rules, it could face a hefty fine and/or the loss of draft picks. The Cavs should’ve just given McCaw the entire bag. Trying to be cheap could cost them in the long run.

Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch on Twitter @ishcreates. Subscribe to The St. Louis American’s YouTubepage to see weekly Sports Break videos with Ishmael and Melvin Moore.

Ishmael H. Sistrunk is a columnist and the website coordinator for the St. Louis American and www.stlamerican.com.

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