What the Kawhi Leonard Trade Means for the Raptors and Spurs
The NBA offseason truly never sleeps. After months of trade rumors and speculation, Kawhi Leonard has been traded but not to the team of his choice. While Leonard looked to return home to Los Angeles and play for the Lakers, the Spurs traded him, along with Danny Green, to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first round pick. The trade carries serious implications for both teams and today, we’ll take a look at what the motives for each side might have been behind it.
Making the move for Kawhi signals that the Raptors are pushing all-in for the Eastern Conference. With LeBron gone, the Raptors path to even deeper postseason success is clearer than it’s been even with the team coming off an East-leading 59 wins. After getting swept once again this past postseason they shook it up by firing Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and now trading their best player away in Demar DeRozan.
This trade provides the Raptors with two paths. Many expect Kawhi to leave for the Lakers once he’s up for free agency after this season. If he does, that gives the Raptors an opportunity to rebuild, rather than continue to tread water as a team that couldn’t quite break through as championship contenders. However, if the Raptors can convince Kawhi to stay in Toronto they could have a new franchise cornerstone that could help them contend for championships in the years to come. Given what happened with Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder, where many thought he was LA-bound after a year before he ended up resigning, people shouldn’t be so quick to rule out the possibility of the Raptors convincing Kawhi to stay with the team long-term.
San Antonio Spurs
Given how tenuous their situation and relationship with Kawhi had become, the Spurs made out pretty well in their trade with the Raptors. Instead of having Leonard leave in a year for nothing, they ended up with another All-Star and All-NBA player in Demar DeRozan, as well as a first round pick and a promising young big man in Jakob Poeltl. By taking this deal, instead of one that consisted of more picks and future prospects, the Spurs are showing that they want to continue to be a Western Conference threat rather than enter a rebuild as they head into what will likely be the last couple years of the Gregg Popovich era.
What other offers did the Spurs have on the table? The Lakers and 76ers were two of the main teams in the running for Leonard and reportedly weren’t willing to meet the Spurs’ asking price. San Antonio had asked for Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons to be included in a trade with the 76ers but they were considered untouchable by Philadelphia and they wouldn’t even offer Markelle Fultz in their talks. The Lakers weren’t willing to offer Brandon Ingram in their talks with the Spurs, especially considering they’re in a position to sign Leonard next offseason without mortgaging any of their players with future star potential. With few options that would be considered a fair return for Leonard, arguably a top-5 player in the league, the Spurs took the deal that included the best player they’d been offered in return for Kawhi. After winning 47 games largely without Kawhi this past season, the Spurs could end up being one of the top teams in the West next season after adding DeRozan.