The Kawhi Leonard saga has ended.
For now anyway.
The disgruntled Spurs forward who is a former NBA Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year was traded early this morning from the San Antonio Spurs alongside his teammate G Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for All Star G DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 1sr Round pick.
Naturally when you look at blockbuster trades like these the first question that comes to mind is which team came out looking better. Answering this question in a vacuum is a bit more complicated simply because there are so many tentacles to this story. In other words, the Kawhi saga is actually far from over especially with the latest report that Kawhi has no interest in playing for the Raptors in the long term.
The negatives of this trade is quite obvious and it lands mostly on the Toronto side of the aisle. Instead I want to focus on the positives for both ends.
Why the Spurs won
To me it’s very simple. The only loss I can see here for the Spurs is that they simply parted ways with Kawhi Leonard. You’re not just going to replace a top 5 player in the league on a whim. There are literally only 3-4 players in the league that bring back an equal or greater return for Leonard. That said, it was painfully obvious at the close of the season that the San Antonio Spurs had to make a move. Some say they had time to wait. While that may be true the reality is the Spurs had zero interest in letting this situation fester into training camp. Once the team knew of Kawhi’s intentions after months of public posturing, San Antonio’s lone priority was to get back as best as a proper return on the investment.
In my opinion they did. Say what you will about Demar DeRozan but he is a top 20 player. You pair him with another top 20 player in Lamarcus Aldridge alongside Greg Poppovich’s ability to get the best out of less and the Spurs stay in the mix as a playoff contender.
Now let me be clear here. I am not suggesting that all of a sudden the Spurs are a serious Finals contender and can compete with say the Golden State Warriors. But let’s really think about it. After the Warriors and possibly the Houston Rockets (depending on how the Clint Capela situation plays out) who in the Western Conference honestly scares you? Sure there are many good teams in the West but aside of those two teams I mentioned and maybe LeBron’s Lakers (holy shit I can believe I actually said that) the Spurs roster realistically is comparable to everyone else in the middle of the Western Conference pack.
DeRozan ain’t James Harden, Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade but he is an proven commodity in this league.
Then there is the distraction angle. Everyone keeps underrating this. Imagine Kawhi Leonard was on the Spurs roster this fall with everything that was going on around him and the team. It would more than likely be a wasted season. The Spurs moved on when they needed to and now can come into the 2018-19 season fresh, rejuvenated and this saga firmly behind them. It’s now Toronto’s problem.
Why the Raptors won
Kawhi Leonard is a top 5 players in the league when healthy. That’s the easy answer. They also get Danny Green who is definitely a serviceable two guard that can actually space the floor with his long range shooting in a way that Demar DeRozan does not. Toronto definitely wins in the short term. This transaction definitely signifies that this is an all in year for Raptors General Manager Masai Ujuri and the Raptors.
For one guaranteed season assuming Kawhi Leonard is a good citizen and sucks it up for a year the Eastern Conference becomes even more interesting. Two weeks ago on my podcast I explained why I believe with LeBron James heading West makes the Eastern Conference which has underwhelmed in reality for well over a decade now. That is just being nice if we are being completely honest. This move in my opinion makes the top of the Eastern Conference now a legitimate three headed race at the top between the Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Worst case scenario. If Kawhi still wants to leave for LA via. Free Agency in 2019 the one positive is that they at least they were able to get out of the DeRozan contract that currently has 3 years left on it. Now that sounds hypocritical saying this given how much I praised the
DeRozan transaction for the Spurs earlier. However I do think if you had a heart to heart conversation with the Raptors front office brass, I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that they are happy getting out of that long term commitment to DeRozen. It now potentially gives them the necessary cap room to rebuild in the event Leonard does not stay consider long term.
Of course that’s a whole other chapter to this story.