Can Raptors trade Kawhi if he won’t re-sign? Maybe not

San Antonio Spurs- Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs- Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard is a member of the Raptors, but for how long? If he doesn’t re-sign with our team, the trade will be a failure; doubly so if he can’t be traded.

The reaction of the NBA press to the mega-trade between the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs has generally been positive to both sides. The consensus of opinion boils down to a view that the Raptors acquired the best player (Kawhi Leonard), while the Spurs did as well as could be expected from an exasperating, no-win situation.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri has been praised for his determination to build an NBA championship calibre team without regard to sentimentality. I concur about the need for a GM to possess a degree of callousness in the acquisition and disposal of assets, even when they are human beings.

When the deal was still in its Hot Rumour stage, I expressed concerns about:

  1. whether Leonard’s quadriceps injury had healed sufficiently for him to pass the mandatory physical
  2. if he would refuse to report (a reasonable topic for worry, given how he snubbed the Spurs)
  3. whether he’d respect rookie head coach Nick Nurse
  4. if he’d even consider signing with our team after one season

So far, none of these matters has proven a problem (OK, we don’t know about #4).

Yet I must raise one more matter which has me troubled. I like to question my assumptions about almost everything. Here’s a comfort-thought which may not be true, “If Kawhi won’t commit to a new contract, we can always move him before the trade deadline.” But can we really?

California, here he comes?

Leonard has always held the position of wanting to suit up for a Los Angeles-based team. We assume he hasn’t changed his mind, although that’s difficult to ascertain. I’ve known blocks of granite which talk more than Kawhi. Thus the problem becomes simple: why would a GM other than Rob Pelinka or Lawrence Frank trade for Leonard, when he’s going to be out the door at (post-)season’s end?

Sure, there’s the temptation to believe your team is “one top player” away from challenging for a ring. However, the absurd strength of the Golden State Warriors must provide even gung-ho GMs grave concern.

There aren’t many Eastern Conference teams who are likely to give the Dubs a serious run. Can you envision the Celtics’ Danny Ainge moving one or more of his talented kids to Toronto, a major competitor, for a few months of Kawhi’s services? Neither can I. The same with the 76ers, whose fans endured years of hapless teams while Trusting The Process. The lottery picks Sam Hinkie garnered during those grim seasons have been turned into top young players. Philly rightfully expects to be a contender for a half-decade or more.

Next. Could Kyle Lowry be on the move?. dark

Out West, the number of contenders is likewise limited. The Houston Rockets don’t have many holes, likewise the OKC Thunder. Masai would need a trade partner willing to mortgage their future.

I didn’t like this show the first time, & don’t want a sequel

Many of you remember the distressing end to Chris Bosh’s time in Toronto. He swore up and down he didn’t want to be traded, then bolted to become one of the Big 3 in Miami. The Raptors were left with nothing save a first-round draft pick, rather than the boatload of riches a trade of Bosh would have returned.

Masai had best hope his full-court press to dazzle Kawhi sufficiently to keep him in Toronto is successful. If not, we may be looking at CB4, Part Deux.