Kawhi Leonard trade to Toronto Raptors is gaining momentum

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 12: Kawhi Leonard
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 12: Kawhi Leonard /

Once a longshot, the possibility of a Kawhi Leonard trade to the Toronto Raptors seems more like than ever before.

It’s funny how the NBA can change in a blink of an eye. A month ago, a Kawhi Leonard trade to the Los Angeles Lakers seemed all but guaranteed. A report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, indicated that Leonard had the Lakers as the “center of his trade preferences”.

Then, just as trade discussions appeared to die down, LeBron James decided to take his talents to LA. James catapulted the Lakers into instant relevancy and it seemed more likely than ever that Kawhi to LA was destined.

Now, two weeks after LeBron’s decision, a month from Woj’s original report, it appears the Toronto Raptors are in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes. Tim Bontemps, of the Washington Post, has reported that the Toronto Raptors have “generated buzz” as a potential landing spot for the former MVP candidate.

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One rumor doesn’t mean much. However, the idea appears to have gained some traction. As of July 11, one prominent online sportsbook has the Toronto Raptors as the favorites (+200) to acquire Leonard for next season.

The deal would draw eerie comparisons to the Oklahoma City Thunder trade for Paul George. While playing for Indiana, George requested to be traded and specifically wanted to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sam Presti didn’t care. He made a bet on his organization and his organization’s culture that George would want to re-sign with the Thunder. One year later, that gamble paid off.

Are the Raptors willing to make that same bet? To this point team president Masai Ujiri has been relatively cautious. Any Kawhi trade is a calculated risk, knowing he has the potential to bolt after just one season.

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Obviously the Spurs are not going to trade Leonard without receiving considerable assets in return. The Raptors are not the only team willing to take a shot on Leonard and the Lakers assumingly would like to mitigate that risk as much as possible.

Presumably any deal would need to be based around DeMar DeRozan. At 28-years old and one of the Raptors best two players, DeRozan helps match Leonard’s salary while also providing significant value back to the Spurs. Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas also bring the salaries close, but are far less appealing to San Antonio.

Along with DeMar, the Raptors will also likely need to throw in other assets. It’s unclear what assets the Spurs organization values at this time, so speculating on the specifics is a boundless exercise.

The Raptors will also need to take on, or find a team to take on approximately $7 million beyond Leonard to match salaries. One possibility is adding Norman Powell for Pau Gasol. Gasol’s two-year contract lines up with the rest of the Raptors’ free agents and would clear Toronto’s books completely for 2020 and beyond.  (Toronto does have a $4 million option for OG Anunoby that is likely to be accepted.)

Next: Ranking the ceilings of the Raptors' young core

Ultimately any trade for Leonard remains unlikely. Even with odds at +200 the Raptors are still twice as likely to not acquire him than trade for him. However once a longshot, it appears a trade for Kawhi is now at least a possibility.