UPDATE: It’s official, Kawhi Leonard may want to go purchase a couple really heavy winter coats, because he is headed to Toronto. The deal has been approved by the league and announced by the teams.
After another rough playoff exit at the hands of LeBron James, Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri wanted to shake things up in Toronto this offseason. To change the culture. To make a push for a ring since the LeBron wall went West. The status quo was no longer good enough for the Toronto decision maker.
He did that in the most dramatic way possible.
In maybe the biggest move of the summer, the Raptors have acquired Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.
Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Haynes of ESPN broke the story:
The Toronto Raptors are finalizing a deal to acquire San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in a trade package that includes All-Star DeMar DeRozan, league sources told ESPN….
Leonard and DeRozan are both aware that an agreement could be imminent, and neither is expressing enthusiasm for the deal, league sources said.
DeRozan basically confirmed the trade before it became official — and his displeasure with it. DeRozan had been loyal to Toronto wanted to go down as the greatest Raptor ever. He embraced that city when others stars had bolted it, In an Instagram story, he vented (the Raptors reportedly told DeRozan during Summer League he would not be traded, despite rumors).
Leonard and DeRozan could not be traded for each other straight up (DeRozan makes $4 million more than Leonard, once Leonard’s trade kicker of $3 million is counted in), in the end the deal looked like this:
On paper, the trade makes sense for both sides. The Raptors take a shot at a ring and winning Leonard over to their team, if that fails and he bolts they start a rebuild (they also didn’t give up young players they really like such as OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam). This is a win for the Raptors.
The Spurs remain competitive for the next two or three years, likely as long as Gregg Popovich will coach, then they will rebuild.
The Spurs did not want to send Leonard to the West and the Lakers, and they wanted a star player who would keep them relevant and in the playoffs as part of the deal. DeRozan does that (while the Lakers and Sixers would not throw in key pieces such as Brandon Ingram or Markelle Fultz). Paired with LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray, and the always solid role-playing core with the Spurs, they are in the playoff mix in the middle of a brutal West. DeRozan has two seasons guaranteed at $27.7 million, with a player option for a third season after that.
Leonard is a free agent in the summer of 2019 and can then sign anywhere he wants. That has reportedly been Los Angeles, although in Las Vegas I heard rumors from sources that both the Lakers and Clippers are in play to land him.
The Raptors will have this season to win Leonard over and get him to re-sign — just as Oklahoma City did with Paul George. Toronto is a fantastic city, it has a passionate fan base, and the team is poised to win a lot. Toronto also has more money: with the trade Toronto can offer Leonard a five-year, $189.6 million contract next summer, the most any other team can put on the table is a four-year, $140.6 million offer. Leonard, it should be noted, walked away from a $221 million offer should he have worked things out with the Spurs. George was open to the Oklahoma City experience, will Leonard be in Toronto? (Also, the Raptors can trade him again at the deadline.)
If Leonard is fully healthy — something nobody really knows for sure — the Raptors would be contenders in the East, they have arguably the best player in the conference now (him or Giannis Antetokounmpo). This team is a threat to favorite Boston as well as Philadelphia.