One of the most anticipated trades of the 2018-2019 NBA Season went off with nary a whisper as Kawhi Leonard, whom the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs had invested their entire future on, became a Toronto Raptor earlier this week.
Kawhi a Raptor? What gives? Let’s break down the deal and then study how it affects both the Raptors and Spurs.
Kawhi Leonard Heads to Jurassic Park, Death Knell for San Antonio?
First, we look at the trade. Then, we study how it affects both Toronto as well as San Antonio.
How Kawhi Became a Toronto Raptor
San Antonio had hoped that they could leverage the L.A. Lakers for either Brandon Ingram, or both Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma for Kawhi. Once LeBron decided to sign with L.A., without a single stipulation of garnering another superstar player, that leverage vanished.
Magic saw no need to send any of his potential young stars for a player heading into this season off an injury. That opened the door for both Boston and Toronto. Boston felt comfortable enough in their roster, but Toronto didn’t.
The Raptors desperately wanted to unload DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan’s a great player, but he can’t take over a game versus other great players the way that Kawhi can when healthy. In addition to getting DeMar, the Spurs also got Jakob Poeltl and a Top 20 protected first round pick that turns into two Round 2 picks in 2020 if it lands in the Top 20 in 2019.
Can the Raptors Contend in the Eastern Conference?
With Kawhi at Jurassic Park, the Raptors should contend for the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia and Boston are the two best teams in the East. Philly should take a huge step forward this season because Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have played a full season together.
Boston is a legitimate contender to the Golden State Warriors for the NBA Championship. That’s how good their starting five is when everyone’s healthy. Boston’s coach, Brad Stevens, puts them up a few notches the way a really good trainer can make a thoroughbred better than its competition in a horse race.
But, Toronto should be right there. Kyle Lowry remains a top point-guard. Danny Green is a decent shooting guard while the frontcourt of Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, and Kawhi should pay massive dividends.
Make no mistake, though, Kawhi is likely to bolt after this season. So, don’t expect Toronto to rest on its laurels if the Lakers come calling after the season starts.
What About the Spurs?
San Antonio just lost their David Robinson, Tim Duncan, player. The Spurs have always built around that single player. At first, it was the Admiral, David Robinson. Then, it was the great Tim Duncan. This time, they wanted to build around the supremely talented Kawhi Leonard.
Without Leonard, what’s going to happen? First, San Antonio should make the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan is an awesome player. He can shoot the three about as well as any player in the NBA. The frontline should continue to excel as long as both Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge play at a high level.
Point-guard Dejounte Murray only averaged 3 assists per game last season, though. He must step up his game if San Antonio wishes to do more than bow out in Round 1 of this season’s NBA Playoffs. If Murray becomes a more complete player, the 5.7 rebounds are nice, but he must score more and dish the rock more, San Antonio could be a sneaky tough out for Golden State, Houston, and OKC.
Here’s the bottom line, the trade works for both Toronto and San Antonio. San Antonio rids itself of an unhappy player while picking up one of the best shooting guards in the NBA. Toronto gained one of the best overall players in the NBA. Even if Kawhi bounces, it’s not terrible for the Raptors. The reason is because the Raptors save money if Kawhi leaves.
But, what about Kawhi? Is this good for him? Yes, it is. Toronto has no leverage. If they know Kawhi will leave after this season, they’ll trade him to the Lakers. All Magic must do is wave a player like Lonzo Ball, whom the Spurs didn’t want, at them.
Trust me, if Magic does that at the right time, the dinos at Jurassic Park will take the bait.