The long-awaited result of the Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio has finally reached a conclusion. That conclusion was for the Spurs to deal him and Danny Green to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. The first-round pick is protected 1-20 and after one year it becomes two second-round picks.
The feeling I get from the NBA world is that a lot of people don’t love this trade for either side. I don’t completely agree with that sentiment but I do see that argument. The Raptors gave up their franchise player for a player who appears like he is going to be a one-year rental as it’s pretty well-known that Leonard wants to be in Los Angeles.
For the Spurs I like this deal, given the circumstances. Obviously trading a guy as good as Kawhi Leonard is never a good thing, but it was so well-known that he wanted out that they basically had no choice and were going to have to deal him eventually, or lose him for nothing. DeRozan still has two years left on his deal and he has a player option for a third year, which is a good thing long-term for the Spurs and keeps them from having to enter a rebuild. The acquisition of Poeltl could also be a good one long-term. He likely won’t make a big impact in his first year in San Antonio, but in his second year in the league he saw an increased role in Toronto and basically doubled his point scoring average from 3.1 to 6.9 points per game. He also upped his shooting percentage from 58% to nearly 66%.
I would think DeRozan will continue to be a good NBA player playing in the Spurs organization and Poeltl should continue to develop in that system. The draft pick likely won’t turn into anything because of the protection on it but Toronto likely needed to throw it in to make it happen.
Now for what this means for the Raptors. Danny Green will give them a shooting threat come playoff time, which should help them because he also has playoff experience and has been good at times during his career in the playoffs. But that’s enough about Danny Green. The main piece in this trade is obviously Kawhi Leonard. He is coming off of a strange season in which he only played nine games because of a quad injury.
When healthy, Leonard is obviously one of the best two-way players in the entire league and instantly makes any team that he is on better. He has significantly improved his offensive production over the course of his career and is widely thought of as maybe the best defender in the league. While that’s great the Raptors get a player of his caliber it will ultimately come down to how motivated he is. I wouldn’t think he would do what he did in San Antonio this year to force his way out of Toronto because it’s a contract year, but you never know. If he is healthy and plays at the level we are used to seeing from him he will be a great addition for Toronto, especially come playoff time.
Even though I feel bad for DeMar DeRozan because he was loyal to the Raptors, this is ultimately a business and when healthy Kawhi Leonard is a better player and by the Raptors doing this they will have a season to try and convince him to stay, a la Paul George in Oklahoma City, even though it seems likely he will end up in Los Angeles one way or another. However, that was the case with Paul George. Even having the chance to recruit him to stay is why I applaud the Raptors for making this move even though it hasn’t sat well with the Toronto fan base.
I also applaud the Spurs because even though he clearly wanted to go to Los Angeles they didn’t owe him anything because he was still under contract and I think they did the right thing by taking what seemed to be the best available offer.
Lastly, this does take somewhat of a step to evening out the imbalance between the stars in the East and West and if Leonard is his self it should at least make for an interesting Eastern Conference Playoffs, even though the winner is still likely going to lose the Finals by a decent margin.