I hope Kawhi Leonard has his passport ready, because he is headed north of the border. Following months of rumors that bounced between LA, Philadelphia, and Boston, the Spurs finally found their ideal trade package with the Raptors.
In the deal, that has reportedly been agreed to in principle per Woj, Leonard and Danny Green will be sent to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a heavily protected 2019 first rounder. This trade can be viewed as a win for both teams for a variety of reasons.
It was widely reported throughout this process that the Spurs were seeking a package of an All-Star talent and young players in return for Leonard. This package meets all of their requirements. DeRozan is a four-time All-Star and is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career. Jakob Poeltl, a former number nine overall pick, is still only 22 and will have plenty of opportunities to develop in coach Popovich’s system.
With that being said, what does this trade mean for Toronto? In the short term, it shuffles up a team that was clearly in need of some changes. Even though DeRozan was coming off one of his best seasons, it had become clear that his style of play does not translate to playoff basketball.
In a point in time where the three point shot is crucial, DeRozan only attempted 3.6 threes per game, which was a career high. For a shooting guard who’s best attribute is his scoring, the lack of an outside shot limited his effectiveness at times.
Replacing Poeltl and DeRozan with Danny Green and Leonard will be a significant upgrade, even if it is only for a year. Leonard is essentially DeRozan but more versatile. He is a career 39% three point shooter who, when healthy, is the best defender in the NBA. Adding him to the deepest team in the NBA could reinsert the Raptors into the conversation as Eastern Conference favorites. Danny Green is a knockdown shooter and an excellent perimeter defender which is the perfect player for a contending team to have.
As far as on the court production goes, swapping DeRozan for Leonard is at worst a slight upgrade, and adding Danny Green into the starting lineup will result in significant improvement on the wing. Losing Poeltl is a blow to the bench that was the most productive in the league, but the Raptors are deep enough that they will likely not experience an imense drop off. The NBA is in an era where teams can never have enough perimeter defenders, and the Raptors have now added two of the best.
Despite the on-court upgrade this trade creates, the biggest benefit is the newfound flexibility the Raptors now have. After locking Kyle Lowry and DeRozan into expensive long-term deals, Toronto was all in on the current core and had no flexibility to do much of anything. By getting DeRozan’s contract off the books the Raptors have now created two potential timelines.
The first of which revolves around the success of this core in the upcoming season. If they mesh together really well, and make a playoff run, it may be enough to convince Kawhi to sign a long-term extension in Toronto. This would mean the Raptors would be able to be contenders in the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future, which would be a win for the franchise.
The other scenario that could play out is Kawhi deciding he still wants to leave for LA, and making this a one year rental situation. Which would not be a terrible situation for Toronto. If it becomes clear that the current core needs to be blown up, it will be much easier to do while only having one max contract on your books as opposed to two.
Taking this all into consideration, this was a trade the Raptors needed to make. It is a low-risk, high-reward deal that could make the Raptors front office look like geniuses in a few years, or one that could make the dismantling of a stagnant team a little easier.