Did Toronto Raptors make a mistake not trading for Paul George?

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors were in negotiations to acquire Paul George and Russell Westbrook, in order to lure Kawhi Leonard. Did they make a mistake by possibly passing up on the deal?

By now, everyone knows the Toronto Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard. However, that might not be the only thing they lost out on. Following the massive Paul George trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Raptors were also in negotiations with the Thunder to acquire both George and Russell Westbrook.

According to Wojnarowski, the Raptors were in negotiations, for a deal that centered around Pascal Siakam, matching salary, and future picks. Ultimately, the deal never got done. Either Masai Ujiri balked or Toronto simply didn’t have the assets — depending on when you read Woj’s report.

It was originally reported that the Raptors walked away from the table:

"Presti pursued a package of Russell Westbrook with George to the Raptors — with the NBA’s Most Improved player, forward Pascal Siakam as the centerpiece of a deal — and Ujiri balked, sources said."

Now, the article reads much different:

"Presti pursued a package of Russell Westbrook and George to the Raptors — with the NBA’s Most Improved Player, forward Pascal Siakam, as the centerpiece of a broader, asset-crippling deal — but Ujiri couldn’t keep up with the Clippers’ willingness to unload unprotected first-round picks into the middle of the next decade, league sources said."

Perhaps Woj received new information. As highly sourced as Wojnarowski is, he doesn’t know all sides immediately. It’s very possible the information he was originally provided was incomplete and that Ujiri never really walked away from the table.

But the wording of the second piece sounds a lot like someone protecting his sources. Wojnarowski has his connections for a reason. As great as he is, he needs to play the game as well.

In the updated wording he makes sure to label the deal as “asset-crippling”. A nice throw-in to indicate the Raptors had no choice but to decline the offer. Again, his second article may be correct, but there’s almost no doubt he was asked to word it in a specific way.

What would have been the deal

In order to match salary, the Raptors would have needed to include two significant contracts. One almost certainly being Kyle Lowry, and the other being Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol. Considering the Thunder’s needs and Gasol’s role in the Raptors’ title, Ibaka feels like the more logical choice.

Altogether the deal would have looked something like this:

It’s a lot to give up. In terms of overall talent, it’s a slight upgrade. As great as Siakam is, Paul George is the best player in the deal by a reasonable margin. Regardless of your opinion of Lowry vs Westbrook, most would agree the difference isn’t significant.

It would have been devastating to the Raptors future assets. Westbrook’s contract is daunting, Siakam is the youngest player in the deal, and sending multiple first-rounders into the future is always a risk. Who knows, the Thunder could have also been asking for OG Anunoby and other young players.

However, Toronto wasn’t just getting back Westbrook and George. Theoretically, they also would have been re-acquiring Leonard. Lowry, Siakam, and Ibaka for George, Leonard, and Westbrook is a deal you take every time, regardless of the picks.

Was it enough?

But would the deal have been enough for either OKC or for Kawhi Leonard?

The Clippers received a MASSIVE offer from the Clippers which included a talented young player, five draft picks, and two pick-swaps.

Siakam is good, but he’s not that good. Toronto would have needed to include at least 3 picks to make their offer competitive. Even then, it’s close.

Wojnarowski is also now reporting that the Raptors never had the requisite assets. Instead, they were just being used to drive up the Clippers offer.

We also don’t know if it would have been good enough for Leonard. Kawhi was also considering the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s very possible, Toronto wouldn’t have landed him even after acquiring George and Westbrook.

Ultimately, it’s more likely than not, Toronto just didn’t have the horses. The Clippers made a monster deal, Kawhi wanted to head back home, and now, the Raptors are on the outside looking in.

Next. What will the Raptors look like next season?. dark

If they did have the assets (and assurance from Leonard) but were afraid to pull the trigger, this was a mistake by Masai Ujiri. However, that seems unlikely given the circumstances.