By Ben Babcock
As you may have seen, Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors yesterday. Leonard and Danny Green were sent to Toronto for Demar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a 2019 first round pick.
It’s no secret that Leonard didn’t want to stay with the Spurs, but I honestly wasn’t expecting Toronto to make a move. Having only played 9 games in the 2017-18 season, Kawhi’s health is a huge concern. He is still considered to be one of the top players in the league and probably the best defensive player in the league, when healthy. So this is good and bad news for the Raptors. Kawhi won’t be any big improvement from an offensive standpoint over Demar DeRozan, but his defensive presence in a weak Eastern conference will keep the Raptors toward the top of the Eastern rankings. The thing is though, this doesn’t greatly improve the Raptors at all, and doesn’t put them in title contention. And! Kawhi Leonard’s contract is up next year, so he could end up leaving the Raptors twiddling their thumbs, wondering what the heck they just did. This is not a great move for the Raptors. Best case scenario is they hold onto Kawhi long-term then they’re still stuck behind the Celtics and Sixers in the East, no closer to contention unless they bring in another star.
On the other hand, the Spurs get rid of a bad attitude and gain a guy that just got stabbed in the back and will be playing with a vengeance. DeRozan wanted to stay in Toronto his whole career, but they toss him for a guy that hasn’t even played 10 games in the past year after DeRozan lead Toronto to the top seed of the East. The Spurs young core and Lamarcus Aldridge still had a good season without Kawhi this past season. Add DeRozan’s 23 points a game and the Spurs are relevant again in the West. Not contenders, but relevant.
The Spurs won this trade by far. They’ll have draft assets next year after gaining the Raptors 2019 first round pick, and they’ve now got one of the best shooting guards in the league. This moves them up in the West, while the Raptors stay in the same place they were, and are now down a first round pick next year. They’d better hope they can sign Kawhi Leonard to a new contract or Masai Ujiri is going to look really stupid.