Mike Greenberg: Kawhi Leonard Would Not Have Won a Championship Last Year With LeBron James in the East

Mike Greenberg
Mike Greenberg /

LeBron James outplayed Kawhi Leonard and led the Lakers to a big win over their crosstown rivals on Sunday afternoon. This has led to a bigger-picture discussion of LeBron vs. Kawhi and how things would turn out if the two were to meet in the playoffs once more, when the gloves come off and both guys are willing to play 40 minutes to drive their team to victory.

Such a discussion occurred on Get Up this morning, leading Mike Greenberg to proclaim that LeBron would have been able to stop Leonard and his championship squad in Toronto in their tracks had he remained in Cleveland for the 2018-19 season instead of heading west:

"I will say this: not only would Kawhi Leonard not have won a championship last year if Kevin Durant doesn't get hurt, he would not have gotten out of the East," said Greenberg. "Let me say that directly into that camera: He would not have gotten out of the East if LeBron was still in it. Toronto does not come out of the East, I don't care who they acquire, if LeBron James is still in Cleveland."

No matter how good LeBron is, it's a bit hard to imagine this is the case when you think about who was on the Cavs' roster at the conclusion of the 2018 season. LeBron and Love are a good enough offensive pairing, but after that, Cleveland's best player was... George Hill? Jordan Clarkson on a good day? Toronto, on the other hand, had Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam as Leonard's sidekicks that year. Toronto was also an elite defensive team that, between Leonard, Siakam, and OG Anunoby (if he were healthy in this alternate timeline) was well-suited to defend a LeBron-led team. They proved as much in their Eastern Conference Finals win over the Bucks, who were also built around a ball-dominant forward.

One can certainly never rule out LeBron going Super Saiyan like he did in the 2017-18 playoffs, but one man can only do so much. The Raptors were a team, getting contributions from everywhere in their championship run. That's what's required for any team that doesn't have multiple top-five players. Leonard may not have outplayed LeBron in the imaginary playoff series of last year, but he wouldn't have needed to.

LeBron didn't have anything near the level of support Leonard had in 2017-18 and ultimately couldn't overcome the Warriors' cadre of superstars once he ran into them. Never put anything past The King, but in this hypothetical scenario, I'd take the champs.