Well I guess we sort of got a resolution. On Wednesday, after the Spurs season was filled with questions about Kawhi’s commitment to San Antonio and where he would want to go, he was shipped north of the border to the Toronto Raptors, along with 3 point marksman Danny Green. The Raptors emerged as a trade candidate for Kawhi later in the offseason, as the Spurs had been trying to get a deal done to move him after Kawhi had made it apparent he no longer wanted to play in San Antonio.
What did the Raptors give up to get the two-way superstar? A star player of their own. They traded away one half of their franchise pair, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl, and a protected top-20 first round pick for 2019. This aspect of the trade represented a distinct act of betrayal on the part of the Raptors. DeRozan dedicated his entire career to the Raptors. He took multiple pay cuts to help the team build a squad around him. He made a distinct career change, putting up more 3’s, to propel the team to first in the Eastern Conference. He crafted a beautiful friendship with point guard Kyle Lowry that should be celebrated for years, all while stabilizing the chemistry of the team in total. How did they repay him? Sending him down to San Antonio after helping them achieve new heights as a franchise.
The essence of giving your all for a franchise and then getting pushed out.
Now what did each team get out of the trade? Well, San Antonio was finally able to rectify their Kawhi situation. He made it abundantly clear that he would rather sit out the season than play for the Spurs. It’s always fun to speculate, but I would say that the guidance of his uncle had something to do with Kawhi strong-arming his way out of San Antonio. The Spurs had been fielding offers for their former Finals MVP for the last part of the season. They had been trying to gather good haul for him, while also keeping him out of the Western Conference. They asked for everything short of the Staples Center from the Lakers, and when they rebuffed their offer, their options showed to be thin.
What they got was not their top choice, but a serviceable option nonetheless. On many accounts, DeRozan is basically Kawhi-lite, with less efficient 3 point shooting. On a team that won 47 games without Leonard last year, adding an offensive threat to the team will only serve to improve them. The All-Star will be a welcome addition to the team, not necessarily a superstar game changer, but an offensive weapon that will no doubt stave off the eventual rebuild of the Spurs franchise. The pairing of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, with exciting young pieces Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV, will keep San Antonio mildly relevant in the Western Conference, most likely allowing them to earn another playoff spot.
What value that the Raptors got back is a little more unclear. They offloaded a big salary chunk in the form of DeRozan, avoiding having to sign him to a large max deal in the midst of his 30s. They won’t miss having to pay the $27.7 million for each of the next two years. They also acquired a certified 3 point sniper in the form of Danny Green, who also does very well on defense with his size and athleticism. The biggest question mark is Kawhi Leonard. Almost every report throughout the entire offseason said that Leonard wanted to be in LA, playing for the Lakers. He had little interest in any other proposition. That is what makes this trade interesting.
Kawhi has no interest in playing for Toronto. At all. The only way that he could be prompted to play would be for the Raptors to levy fines against him for every missed practice and game. That could do it. Even if he does play, they have to understand that this is most likely going to be a rental. The free agency market is very enticing in 2019, with the Lakers and LeBron calling Kawhi’s name at every turn. It is not crazy to believe that he is already looking ahead to next year.
But let’s consider that Kawhi plays the full season with the Raptors. Even after coming off injury, he is still a superstar. Let us not forget, before his a couple years ago in the playoffs, Kawhi was considered a top-5 player in the league, even in competition for the highly coveted spot of 2nd best in the league, behind LeBron. The presence of Leonard in place of DeRozan represents a distinct improvement in all facets of the game. Leonard, considered a top tier defender, raises the defensive caliber of the Raptors’ rotation. They’ve created their own little defensive big 3 in the form of Lowry, Leonard, and second year man OG Anunoby. In terms of offense, Kawhi is DeRozan plus, doing everything that he did but better. He is a more efficient mid-range shooter than DeRozan, has more effective offensive post moves than DeRozan, and hits 3-pointers at higher clip than DeMar.
The addition of Kawhi Leonard makes the team even deeper than they were before. Relative to what other teams were offering, they gave up very little for such a high return. It still keeps them in the running near the top of the conference. While DeRozan was left out to dry by the franchise, they continued to grow and improve. The next season will be full of intrigue, as we watch how Kawhi handles the new atmosphere that he didn’t even want to be a part of.