The Raptors and Spurs have engaged in one of the most stunning trades in recent NBA history. The Raptors received Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 1st round pick. It’ll be sad to see one of the greatest Raptors of all time to leave, as well as Poeltl. This, however, was a deal that had to be made.
The name of the game for the past few years has been to keep the window open for as long as possible and hope that LeBron James eventually leaves the East. It started to feel like Toronto was treading water, not good enough to win it all but a consistent member of the playoffs.
That changes now. This trade flat-out knocks the wall down. If the Toronto Raptors manage to re-sign Kawhi Leonard they will remain contenders for the duration of his tenure, he makes the team that good.
The Raptors were always going to be around the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference this season, but you can argue that this team is now the premiere team in the East.
Kawhi Leonard is a bona fide superstar. He might not have the outgoing personality of one, but he is. Leonard is an elite two-way wing with ability to run an offense. It wouldn't be a stretch to say he is a top three player in the NBA when healthy. You don’t often get a deal that can upgrade a 59-win team, but this is the hand the Raptors were dealt.
The depth in wing players the Raptors now possess is key to sticking with the shift in NBA playing styles. Teams are encouraging small-ball lineups and players who are comfortable in spacing the floor and defending multiple positions. Toronto now has the ability to roll out line-ups capable of switching across the board.
The trade is a gamble, but it’s the biggest acquisition in Raptors history and it makes their intentions very clear. The Toronto Raptors are here to play ball with the elite teams in the NBA.
The Raptors have some of the most devoted and appreciative fans in the NBA, and the opportunity to build something special should be an important factor for Leonard. He’s with a contender once again, in a less daunting conference.
However, if Leonard decides not to resign at the end of the season, alarm bells should not be raised. Kawhi not re-signing means the Raptors have a spare $18m in cap room. Add on another $10m if they choose not to resign Danny Green. This gives Toronto two options: they can chase after a coveted free agent from the much-anticipated class of 2019 or, begin the rebuild.
A rebuild was talked about in great detail this season, with Casey being fired et al. Lowry and Ibaka will both have a year left on their deals, respectively and the spare cap room can be used to take on some bad contracts.
The Raptors have put themselves in a great position for the upcoming season and beyond. With a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Champion leading the team for the next year, anything could happen. If it sounds like I’m romanticising the situation it’s because I am.
It’s Kawhi Leonard for goodness sake.