Spurs Trade Superstar Kawhi Leonard to Raptors
Early Wednesday morning, ESPN reported that the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs were deep in negotiations on a deal to send disgruntled All-Star Kawhi Leonard north of the border. A few hours later, the trade was confirmed. In the end, the Spurs sent Leonard along with Danny Green to the Raptors in exchange for fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 protected first-round pick.
Leonard played in just 9 games last season after suffering a quad injury during the 2017 playoffs. He made his return to the floor in December, but he never played more than 29 minutes in any game and he was ultimately lost for the rest of the year in January.
The Spurs’ medical staff reportedly cleared him to return to the floor, but Leonard insisted on continuing to rest and rehab his injury. Murmurs started to trickle out of the team’s locker room that there was a growing discord between Leonard and the Spurs’ brass, though the player himself remained silent publicly. For most of the rest of the season, Leonard trained on his own in New York City.
ESPN reported that the Spurs and Raptors had been engaged in trade discussions for a couple of weeks before the deal was ultimately consummated. ESPN’s Chris Haynes said that DeRozan reportedly met with Raptors’ officials during Summer League in Las Vegas last week and came out of the meetings believing he would not be traded.
A clearly frustrated DeRozan wrote on Instagram Wednesday morning, “Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”
The deal is quite a risk for the Raptors, who may well lose Leonard next summer for nothing. Kawhi is set to enter the final year of his contract, and multiple reports indicated that he told the Spurs that he would not negotiate an extension and would like to sign next summer for a team in Los Angeles. The Lakers and Spurs reportedly discussed potential trade scenarios involving Leonard, but nothing the Lakers were offering was enough for San Antonio.
Rather than taking a package full of young players and future draft considerations, the Spurs selected to take on an established All-Star swingman as well as a promising young center. Last season, DeRozan averaged 23 points per game on 45 percent shooting from the field in helping the Raptors earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Toronto was ultimately swept in the second round by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Spurs finished the regular season as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, and they were ultimately beaten by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
So, rather than running it back with the same core of talent and hoping that LeBron’s departure to L.A. would clear a path to the Finals, the Raptors opted to be aggressive in trying to upgrade the roster. In Leonard, Toronto now has one of the very best 2-way players in the league. A legit superstar, the Raps would do incredibly well if they are able to impress him enough to convince him to sign an extension after next season.
Whether Leonard has interest in staying in Toronto in the long term obviously remains to be seen. 2 seasons ago, the San Diego State product averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field. Leonard is also considered to be the best individual defensive player in basketball.
With Leonard now in the fold, the Raptors are capable of deploying a truly tenacious defensive lineup also featuring bulldogs like Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka and fellow newcomer Danny Green.
DeRozan has 3 years and $83 million remaining on his current contract. If the Spurs believed Leonard was going to leave in a year, getting a player of DeRozan’s caliber is solid business. An official trade call between both teams and the NBA league office to make things official is set to take place later on Wednesday.
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