I didn’t want to write my opinion on the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan mega-trade for a few reasons. Number one, part of me was interested to see if Toronto was going to on-trade Leonard right away, but mostly I wanted to take some time to think. We aren’t often treated to superstar for superstar trades, so a few days later than everyone else, here are my thoughts on the blockbuster trade.
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FOR the second straight year, the heartless nature of basketball’s business side has had a massive impact during the offseason. The biggest question everyone is asking as the dust settles is why did Toronto trade DeMar DeRozan? It’s not every day you see a franchise player traded and when that franchise player is as loyal as DeMar and has given the franchise everything for nine seasons, you’d think trading him was the last thing Masai Ujiri had in mind.
DEROZAN’S postseason struggles were probably part of the reason he found himself dealt. If he had have delivered for Toronto in the playoffs things would be very different. We now know that in his last playoff series as a Raptor he spent large chunks of the game on the bench because he wasn’t getting the job done. Trading him was a bold move, but it could be considered as a necessary evil. Toronto is now in a solid spot and they can choose to take one of two paths. They can go all-in on winning a title this year and if Kawhi buys into the team and returns to the stellar two-way player that we all know he can be, the skies the limit for the Raptors.
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THE other path involves a complete reset and after the last half a dozen seasons this would be a tough pill to swallow for Toronto fans. However, they may just have to accept the fact that their team wasn’t good enough. They could dominate the regular season, but a team that leans on Lowry and DeRozan to win you a playoff series, frankly, wasn’t good enough. They were often confronted with a LeBron sized roadblock which led to more playoff L’s than other potential matchups. At the end of the day though, Toronto wasn’t winning a chip with Lowry and DeRozan as their guys. Period.
THERE might even be a third option where the Raptors decide to on trade Leonard to a West coast team, most likely the Lakers or Clippers. Yes, that’s right the Clippers, who might just trump a potential Lakers offer with a bunch of draft picks and young talent. Remember, Toronto was all in on trading for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on draft night and there is still a scenario where he makes his way to Canada.
PERSONALLY if I was an NBA GM I wouldn’t touch Leonard with a 10-foot pole right now. He is behaving like a child throwing a tantrum with his diva-like antics dominating headlines for months on end. It was originally reported that Leonard had no desire to play for Toronto, but I think those stories are smoke and mirrors from his camp more than anything. After the past 12 months, we tend to forget that Kawhi was an MVP favourite not long ago. If he can get himself right mentally and physically I think he offers tremendous upside, but that’s a big if.
MAYBE, Leonard will just buy into Toronto’s way of doing things and recapture the vibe. Either way, San Antonio will be chuffed to wash their hands with him. Not only can they move on from this whole dramatic episode, the Spurs might have managed to pry away the best player available in any trade negotiations. Guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Markelle Fultz were young assets that found themselves in the rumour mill, but apparently, none of them where ever actually on the table.
ACQUIRRING DeRozan gives San Antonio another All-NBA guy that they can plonk next to LaMarcus Aldridge. Adding another All-Star to a team that won 47 games a season ago (all while only getting nine games out of Kawhi), is bound to have a positive impact. There are some questions marks over the rest of the roster, but make no mistake landing DeRozan is an awesome get for Pop and Co.
EVEN though he is hurt and disappointed about how his Toronto career has ended, this trade could be the best thing for DeRozan. Under the guidance of San Antonio and the Spurs organisation, we could see him unlock new talents and thrive in the Spurs system. San Antonio scores a ton of points from mid-range and that trend looks set to continue now that DeMar is in town. Fabled shooting consultant Chip Engelland might even be able to help DeRozan further advance his three-point shot. We have seen the magic he performed on guys like Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker previously, helping them turn the deep ball into a serious weapon. Imagine a 26/5/5 guy who added a consistent, reliable three-point shot?
SIMPLY put trading for Kawhi is a ballsy gamble by Toronto that could blow up in their face. However, they were well aware of that and it might turn into nothing more than a way to hit rock bottom quickly. They still own all of their picks in the foreseeable future and after next year Kyle Lowry is on the books for one more season. Masai Ujiri has often been regarded as a mastermind executive and if he can disguise this trade as a way to fast forward a potential rebuild, things might work out for both teams.
I don’t see many sceanrios where Kawhi stays in Canada after this year, but then again we all said the same thing about Paul George when he landed in Oklahoma. Call me an optimist, call me crazy, but I think this will work out for all parties involved. History tells us that someone will have to, unfortunately, come out as a loser from this deal and if I was a betting man that team will likely be the Raptors. That being said a ‘title or bust’ approach for them this year might be the best play to try and tweak their current, losing postseason formula.
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