Do Raptors win if they trade DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard?


Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has been a trade candidate for months. Attention has turned to the Raptors, with DeMar DeRozan being the headliner to move south. Does this deal make sense?

The Toronto Raptors are considering the trade of DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio. The Spurs would send disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard north. At least that’s the buzz or noise banging around the rumour-happy NBA trade press.

I’m deeply apprehensive when writing about such “deals”, as they may exist entirely within the head of a commentator looking to liven up a slow news day. While that remains the most likely scenario, let’s play along and see where this goes.

A one-for-one trade isn’t possible. DeRozan makes too much compared to Leonard. That said, I suspect the Spurs could sign and trade a useful player or two to make the money work.

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Leonard shouldn’t even be available on the trade market, to the Raptors or anyone else. To summarize a strange situation, he’s been struggling with an quadriceps injury which all but wiped out his 2017-18 season. The word from Leonard’s “camp” seems to be that the Spurs’ medical people pooh-poohed the seriousness of the injury, and he’s miffed enough as a result to want out of south-central Texas. My gut tells me there’s more to the story, but we aren’t likely to hear much clarification from the Sphinx-like Leonard.

The Spurs don’t want to enter a new season with a grumpy star.

Raptors management is reportedly discontent with the notion of standing pat over the summer, and prepared to make a major move of some sort.

Neither side’s reason to make a deal seems entirely compelling to me. Regardless, let’s put a stake in the ground.

He’s a wonderful player

A healthy Kawhi Leonard would be the best Raptor since Vince Carter’s salad days. Toronto’s defense would improve markedly. Leonard is a phenomenal wing defender, blessed with enormous hands and tremendous concentration. He’s won back to back Defensive Player of the Year awards.

But wait – there’s more. In 2015-16, he hit 127 of his 291 attempts from beyond the arc, for an insane 44.3% success rate. He’s averaged more steals than turnovers during his career. Surely I don’t need to sell you on Leonard. If healthy, he’s an MVP candidate.

And yet – what is the story with Leonard’s injury? We can’t possibly trade for damaged goods, not if we’re giving up DeRozan. OK, another assumption: he’s all but healed and will be ready for training camp with somebody. Now we do the deal, right?

Slow it down, Speedy. There are more concerns. For two decades, players around the NBA have viewed San Antonio as the best place to ply their trade. They take “discounts” to make the Spurs roster, and have a chance to compete for a championship under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich.

So what’s up with the moody Leonard? Why is he the first we’ve heard of not to get with the winning program? His attitude is a red flag flapping sharply in the wind.

Not done yet

I worry about Leonard’s willingness to work with rookie head coach Nick Nurse. Popovich could retire tomorrow and be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He has nothing left to prove. Nick has yet to win a game as a bench boss. The last thing he needs is a star player who doesn’t respect him because he hasn’t got the credentials.

Teams which don’t win championships get broken up, and stars get traded. I understand that, and I don’t think even DeMar DeRozan should consider himself untouchable. But if I were in Masai Ujiri’s shoes, I’d think long and hard about moving DD for anyone. Our All-Star shooting guard has been a loyal soldier and a source of pride for our team.

I’d love to see Kawhi Leonard on the Raptors. Even the possibility that he’d walk away after the 2019-20 season wouldn’t frighten me. However, there are a boatload of concerns about him. Unless all of them are allayed, DeMar shouldn’t be moved to San Antonio.