Last Wednesday, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were traded to the Toronto Raptors, ending a nearly 5-month hold out of communication with his now-former team the San Antonio Spurs. In exchange for Leonard, San Antonio received Demar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl.
In hindsight, this trade really doesn't help either team very much.
Yes, the Raptors acquired a top three player in the league. An NBA champion and finals MVP. But according to ESPN's Chris Haynes, Leonard has no interest in playing with the Raptors. And it's not like Toronto didn't know this before making the deal. Kawhi was adamant about going to one of the Los Angeles basketball teams (the Lakers or Clippers) yet they made the deal. Granted it was an absolute bargain. They essentially just swapped Derozan for Leonard which is like going from a Camaro to a Tesla. He will immediately improve their defense and give them physicality and be shooting on the other end. Although, Toronto will always have to worry if his heart is in it.
But this move was made banking on Kawhi agreeing to sign a long-term deal. It's definitely not impossible. Just look at Oklahoma City and Paul George. He wanted to go the Lakers after one year with the Thunder. But general manager Sam Presti was able to convince him otherwise and signed him to a five-year deal. But George didn't sit out for a whole year crying about how he wanted to leave the team he won a championship with. I'd guess that Toronto is going to experience the same Kawhi who'd rather waste a year to get to where he really wants to be.
Which brings us back to the Spurs. To keep it simple they got absolutely jobbed. For a player of Kawhi's stature, all they got was a backup center and a B+ shooting guard who chokes in the playoffs. Now DeRozan is not happy he left Toronto, but it would be completely out of character for him to sit out like Kawhi. One thing you can't knock him for is how hard he works. Early in Demar's career, he couldn't shoot past the free throw line. Now he is consistently hitting three-point shots.
Despite all of DeRozan's improvements, he's not Kawhi. And the fact that San Antonio only received a single first-round pick is head scratching. Usually, when a franchise gives away its best player, it's for a multitude of draft picks to build for the future. Something that the Spurs haven't really thought about since they drafted Kawhi. It isn't like they can bank on signing free agents either. Leonards main reason for wanting out is that the team couldn't sign more talent to put around him. And now that he's gone they're expecting players to want to come to play with LaMarcus Aldridge? I don't think so.
Despite how you feel about the way Kawhi conducted himself this past year, one argument that can't be combated is that he's changing the way players will migrate to other teams. Gone are the days of franchises controlling what happens to players. He is the first of what I, unfortunately, believe to be many more young players who will demand to play for one certain team and do whatever it takes to make it happen. Even though he didn't go directly to LA, Leonard still got away from the Spurs.
But was it the right move? Hell no. The Spurs are a class personified organization and have been in championship contention for the past 20 years. No one in their right mind would want to leave that. Unless you'd rather play for the team you grew up a fan of, who has been irrelevant for the past five years, and for 70 million dollars less. But hey, he'd look good in purple and gold