Kawhi becoming critical player in G.O.A.T. debate

Now with the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard is in a position to block LeBron James from growing his championship total, which will have a ripple effect on his legacy.

Ben Rohrbach | Yahoo Sports

The next eight months could launch Kawhi Leonard’s legacy into a stratosphere that could further complicate the G.O.A.T. debate between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Leonard’s championship run with the Toronto Raptors last season was that impressive. In dismantling a Golden State Warriors super-team led by Stephen Curry, he validated his own contribution to the San Antonio Spurs’ destruction of a Miami Heat super-team anchored by LeBron in 2014.

In between, Leonard was on the short list of candidates for best player alive, winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors and finishing top-three in MVP voting twice. He looked poised to challenge the Warriors with Kevin Durant in the 2017 Western Conference finals before suffering an ankle injury that ended his season and any chance the Spurs had at an upset. That bled into the quadriceps tendinopathy that cost him all but nine games in 2017-18, and a career bound for superstardom seemed in jeopardy. Then, Leonard left no doubt he is the best player alive in June.

Now, imagine Leonard wins a third Finals MVP in seven seasons, beating LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers to lead three different teams to titles, including the Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers, two franchises that had never even sniffed the Finals before. Is that more impressive than LeBron winning two titles in Miami and a third with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Twice going through LeBron at least established Leonard as his peer when healthy over a large stretch of their primes.

I am not about to argue that Leonard would belong in the conversation with LeBron and Jordan as one of the three greatest players to ever live. Their résumés are far more decorated at this point. But Leonard would complicate the debate if he were to join Kevin Durant in twice spoiling LeBron’s pursuit of six rings. Jordan never had a peer during his reign, which is the ultimate feather in his cap. You could argue that Jordan never had a threat as great as Leonard, but then what would that say about the Clippers superstar? It would vault him into all-time greatness at the age of 28.