The LeBron James-Kawhi Leonard duel was one of the biggest topics in the NBA last season, especially after Kawhi was reportedly close to signing with the Lakers in the 2019 offseason. He joined the Clippers with Paul George instead, changing the landscape of the NBA.
Leonard and George were seen by many people as the favorites to win it all last year but they mightily failed at the task in the 2020 playoffs, blowing a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the second round. This year they don't have the same attention or expectations as last season and they are still seen as the little team in Los Angeles. As for Kawhi, a lot of fans believe he's in debt with the Clippers after last year's fiasco.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith recently explained why the Klaw isn't at LeBron's level yet, especially after his collapse with the favorite Clippers in the Orlando bubble. While talking about the player who needs to knock off the King, Smith made the case for Leonard (3:24 mark).
"Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem, Kawhi’s a good guy, Kawhi’s a star, he plays at both ends of the floor," Smith said, via Sourabh Singh of Essentially Sports. "I’m only speaking in purely basketball sense. Kawhi came to LA as a champion out of Toronto… They marketed Kawhi Leonard as being the new sheriff in town. You had the king’s crown dangling from his convertible, driving down the highway in LA, knowing that LeBron [James] was in town… That’s what you came to town to claim."
When talking about the 2020 playoffs, Smith explained that the King responded when he was asked to do so, unless Kawhi and his team, who suffered more than necessary against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks and blew their 3-1 lead in the next round of the postseason.
“LeBron answered the call. They handled their business in the first two rounds, they went to the conference finals, waiting for you, you had a 3-1 lead, you lost to the Denver Nuggets. I’m sorry I can’t let Kawhi Leonard off the hook.”
This year the Clippers don't have the same expectations they had last year and that could play in their favor. They made some changes in the offseason and Kawhi and George are playing great basketball right now. If they can keep that level in the postseason, the West will have a lot of problems facing this team.