NBA Free Agency: Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan Headline Blockbuster Spurs-Raptors Trade
What's the story?
As reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a trade deal that sends 2-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard north in exchange for DeMar DeRozan heading to Texas.
The Spurs have packaged Kawhi and Danny Green in exchange for DeRozan, Jakob Poetl and a 1-20 protected 2019 first-round pick that will turn into 2-second rounders if it doesn't convey.
In case you didn't know
Leonard and DeRozan both hail from Los Angeles. DeRozan was linked with an exit from Toronto in 2016 briefly, before signing a 4-year, $139 million extension that would tie him to the franchise until the end of the 2020-21 season.
Kawhi Leonard himself became eligible for a 5-year, $221 million supermax deal with the Spurs on the 16th of July.
The heart of the matter
Leonard's troubles with the Spurs franchise began last season when he was misdiagnosed and cleared to play by their medical staff. He continued to feel pain whenever he took the floor, and he was then shut down indefinitely having played 23.3 minutes on an average for 9 games of the 2017-18 season.
His camp began feeding stories to the media about him not being happy with the Spurs front office and organization late that season. Things reached a head when the players on their roster called a players-only meeting, where the likes of Tony Parker called Kawhi out. That was probably when the rift between the two parties became unbridgeable.
The Lakers and Clippers were both supposedly in the mix for the two-way superstar in trade deals, but the Raptors consistently held the advantage due to their ability to put an All-Star in the trade package. Talks between the two parties broke down several times according to Wojnarowski, but now the deal has been finalized after much deliberation.
Leonard and his camp have consistently maintained that he wishes to play in Los Angeles, but Ujiri has taken a risk by initiating this trade, apparently believing that he can convince The Klaw to stay beyond the 2018-19 season. The Raptors have a clearer path to the NBA Finals this season following LeBron James' departure from Cleveland, though they will have to still get past elite teams in Boston and Philly.
DeMar DeRozan, a 5-time All-Star in the Eastern Conference, will bolster the Spurs who racked up 47 wins last season despite not having Kawhi for what was essentially the entirety of the year.
The Spurs were able to minimize the risk of trading a superstar away in his prime by landing an All-Star starter from the Eastern Conference. In doing so, they also successfully avoided the possibility of tougher competition from within the conference for at least one year. At the end of the day, they walk away with 3 years of a dominant shooting guard in his prime, although DeRozan needs to pull his act together in the pressure cooker situation that the playoffs are.
If Kawhi does walk in 2019, the Raptors will have cleared enough cap space to possibly land another big-name free agent, or commit to a full-fledged rebuild. All in all, this move is a good one for all the parties involved, with the exception of DeRozan, who took to Instagram to post a story about his loyalty to the Raptors being disregarded. Perhaps winning in Texas will realign his thinking process?