So... it finally happened, after a whole season of speculation, rumors, and general confusion over what was going wrong inside the Spurs' organization, Kawhi Leonard has been traded to the Raptors with DeMar DeRozan going to San Antonio.
The reasons for Leonard's falling out with the Spurs organization is beyond unclear. The reserved superstar that has basically been built up to this point thanks to the Spurs doesn't want to come back from an injury for various reasons and then demanded a trade from the team because he wants to play for the Lakers all of the sudden. The timing of all this seems opportunistic as this has come after his injury, and judging by the fact that his main managers are family members calls things into question. From there side it would make sense to use the injury as a way to put leverage over the Spurs and try to get to Los Angeles as fast as possible, a bigger market and payday for them no matter the actual fit or desire of the Kawhi. I know he said he wanted to go himself but this whole situation is so shrouded in mystery and confusion, especially when the relationship between the Spurs and Leonard has been rock solid before this, makes me think there is a lot more that might be going on here than a sudden rift opening up between them with one of the quietest players in the league.
Leonard has managed to combine all the things of a player leaving a team in the worst way possible over the past few years. He prolonged an injury without any decent communication between himself and the organization, creating tensions like with Derrick Rose. He wants to leave the team even with one year left on his contract before trying to jump ship with the Lakers like Paul George. And he's done it in a passive aggressive way to a team that doesn't seem to really need/care about him like Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward. He's a real supernova.
These messy breakups of superstars with their old teams drives further proof home how much power the players have now over their future, and what must be catered to before they might end up leaving the team over it. I'm not trying to say the players are brats and the owners are innocent, but if there's any case of a player forcing his way out of a team, it's with Kawhi Leonard now. This won't create some kind of mass exodus from various teams, but it creates an even more precarious situation with how teams make moves and manage their star players. DeMar DeRozan was fine with the Raptors but now he was sucked into this situation and now he has some real problems with the Raptors that didn't even exist before, so player freedom doesn't even always lead to the best result for the players.
And now Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the Eastern Conference on the team with the best record last year and next season appears to be the new LeBron James cork that no other team from the Eastern Conference can escape from to reach the Finals. That's a major influence he has on half of the league and I wonder if that power alone might be enough to keep Kawhi on the Raptors in the future, as he will have much better chances at getting cracks at the Finals then he would if he were in the west, if that's what he wants.
Kawhi's move makes him the new LeBron in the East and I think the conference will go along business as usual for next season with Kawhi's Raptors making it to the Finals. The question is what might happen next offseason as Leonard might leave and there could be another great movement of stars East in order to deal with the easier competition and help some of the up and coming teams.
It's been a wild past few summers in the NBA, and Kawhi Leonard really is the last person anybody would have expected to make his mark.