On the morning of July the 18th, the NBA world would wake up to some more stunning news in a hectic offseason period. So, as you all know, NBA insider Adrian Wojnaroski dropped a major bombshell; the Raptors traded for disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard in exchange for a package revolving around All-Star DeMar DeRozan. It’s hard to make out what it means for both of these teams, but hopefully, I’ll do a good enough job breaking down this trade.
Loyalty is just a word in this harsh business.
Before we analyze this swap, I’d like to point out how this trade is the ultimate example of how loyalty is just a word in this business, as Isaiah Thomas said it best:
Just learn from my story! Loyalty is just a word in this game SMH
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) July 18, 2018
On one side of this deal, you’ve got a guy who’s been through the highs and lows over these past nine years, becoming a fan favorite and arguably the best player the Raptors have ever had. Hell, even Toronto officials told him there was reason to believe that he’d stay with the team three weeks prior to the trade.
On the other side, you’ve got a guy everyone expected to carry the torch after Tim Duncan retired and lead the aging Spurs into a new era. To sum things up, in a saga that lasted over 5 months, he (or his uncle) decides to want out of the organization, due to a questionable series of events.
Now that we’ve got the storylines out of the way, let’s dive into what the trade means for both franchises moving forward.
Why the Toronto Raptors won this trade
Let’s face it; this team was going nowhere with the DeRozan-Lowry backcourt duo, as evidenced by the many postseason failures this team has endured over the past couple of years. And ever since Masai Ujiri took over the role of president of the team, he knew this franchise was in desperate team of a reset. Some people might see this trade as a desperation move, but it’s just what the team needed. Despite the winning seasons, the contending window was closing playoff loss after playoff loss.
With that being said, he’s managed to extend this window by getting a top five player (when healthy), and immediately putting the team in a spot where they can contend in a now LeBron James-less Eastern Conference. Also, Kawhi is a massive upgrade over DeRozan; he blows him out defensively, a better rebounder, and the latter edges him out in scoring production.
Let’s not forget that along with Kawhi, Ujiri managed to get an effective 3 & D player in Danny Green, who despite his age, can still contribute on a championship squad. Adding on, their starting lineup will possibly look like this now:
Potential Depth Chart
This lineup, along with Danny Green and Serge Ibaka coming off the bench, can prove to be a scary team to play against defensively. And offensively, sharpshooter C.J. Miles and SMOY candidate Fred Vanvleet can help with the scoring load too.
Overall, the Raptors have set themselves up very nicely. And even if Kawhi decides to not resign with them next year’s offseason, this allows for them to now go into a full-fledged rebuild, since they have the young core to do so.
Why the San Antonio Spurs won this trade
In a no-nonsense organization like the Spurs, they sure had a lot of nonsense going on behind the scenes last year. It was evident that their relationship with Kawhi Leonard had grown toxic and was not about to change any time soon. Forced to pull the trigger, they managed to get back a pretty decent haul for Kawhi Leonard: DeRozan, young two-way big Jakob Poeltl, and a heavily protected first round pick.
The Spurs are renown to have the best shooting coaches in the league, and can now help a guy who has an inconsistent three-ball due to his constant need to jack up contested jumpers from mid range. Despite his flaws as a defender and his aforementioned shooting struggles, let’s not forget he is a two-time All-NBA player and can be classified as a second-tier star in today’s league. It’s scary to imagine what he can do under HC Gregg Popovich, who can surely help him exceed his potential.
Going back to Jakob Poeltl, he’s a guy who showed flashes of being a starter-level two-way big who can succeed Pau Gasol at the 5. Until the latter retires, he fits in well with an already pretty good second unit. Here’s what San Antonio’s starting lineup could look like going forward.
Potential Depth Chart
C: Pau Gasol, Jakob Poeltl, Chimezi Metu
The Spurs have put themselves in a position where they can still contend even after aging players such as Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, and even LaMarcus Aldridge retire. They’ve got a pretty young nucleus waiting in the wings such as the likes of Lonnie Walker, Davis Bertans, and Jakob Poeltl.
It’s really unfortunate they weren’t able to retain Kyle Anderson, but I believe they’ll do just fine without him. Plus, over the years, they’ve shown to have a pretty good eye for scouting talent, as they’ve found draft steal after draft steal.
It’ll definitely be fun to watch both teams next season. I expect DeRozan to blossom under the tutelage of Pop and I also expect Leonard to return to that MVP form he had two years ago. The Raptors will now hope to pull off what Sam Presti and the Thunder did this offseason by luring away Paul George from LA. Meanwhile, the Spurs are going in a totally new direction, and it’ll also be interesting to see how DeRozan lead the Spurs this upcoming season.