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Nets coach Kenny Atkinson believes Toronto is a title contender even without Kawhi Leonard

Before Saturday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson expressed a rather polarizing take: he believes the Raptors are still title contenders even without Kawhi Leonard.

Via Peter Botte of New York Post:

“I’ve said it since the beginning of the year, I think they’re a championship-contending team. I said it when we played them in the exhibition [season]. They’re really good. And they’re playing without [Marc] Gasol [hamstring], which makes it even more impressive. It’s a real credit to them.

“Nick’s system obviously fits what they’re doing. Siakam taking a huge jump has been real important. I think Kyle, you talk about the winners in the league, guys who know how to win in this league, he’s right up there for me in the top five guys. He just knows how to win.”

Despite Leonard leaving the Raptors this past offseason, they’ve played outstanding, as they’re currently the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 38-14. The Raptors are currently one of the hottest teams in the NBA as they’re riding a 13 game win streak.

Atkinson also expressed that having Leonard on the Raptors was just an excuse for winning the 2019 championship.

“I think the fact that they had Kawhi, that was the excuse, that they won it because of Kawhi. I don’t think it’s that simple,” Atkinson said. “They’ve proven it, that they really do it in a team concept. They have an amazing amount of young guys contribute. I think that’s a credit to their development.

Nonetheless, Atkinson and the Nets will seek to end the Raptors 13 game win streak on Saturday night.