Kawhi Leonard: Moving the immovable object

Kawhi Leonard: Moving the immovable object

Earlier today, the San Antonio Spurs finally succeeded in trading disgruntled All-Star Kawhi Leonard.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported:

The deal sent shock waves around the league, not least because it involved the Toronto Raptors beloved All-Star DeMar DeRozan. The mid-range maestro is coming off a campaign that saw him average 23 points per game, while leading the Raps to a conference-best 59 wins. Unfortunately, they were then swept in the conference finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year.

Something had to change in Toronto, especially as the team has a fairly loaded cap sheet filled with ageing players on oversized contracts.

Consequently, the Raptors had two options looking ahead to the 2018-19 season: they could either roll out the same roster again, hoping for a different outcome, or take a flyer on Leonard.

In doing the latter, General Manager Masai Ujiri is hoping that his newly acquired star will fall in love with the city (perhaps the country) and its army of loyal fans, lead the team to the NBA Finals and sign long-term next summer.

This is wishful thinking, especially as Leonard has openly said that he has no desire to be in Toronto. But Ujiri won’t be thinking about that. He’ll be thinking about how Paul George, who, like Leonard, was destined to join the L.A. Lakers when he hit free agency this summer, opted to commit his future to the Oklahoma City. He’ll be hoping that Leonard forms the kind of bond that DeRozan had with the team’s leader Kyle Lowry. He’ll be hoping that Leonard enjoys the much-lauded ‘easy route’ to the Finals through the weak, weak East. He’ll probably also be hoping that Leonard’s healthy enough to actually play too – something he didn’t do much last season.

And who knows, maybe he’ll get lucky.

If not, all he’s really doing is delaying the seemingly inevitable rebuild the Raptors need to undertake by another measly year. And besides, there’s never been a better time to try something like this. After all, LeBron James (who’s tormented just about every Eastern Conference contender, including the Raptors, in recent years) no longer blocks the path to the Finals. Anyone who wants to capitalise will have to overcome the heir-to-the-throne Boston Celtics, but if there’s a team in the East right now that could potentially do that it’s the Raptors.

On the flip side, things worked out pretty well for San Antonio too. A couple of weeks ago, it seemed as if Leonard’s trade value had fallen through the floor (thanks largely to LeBron’s decision to sign with the Lakers). And given the Spurs desire to dump him in the East, they got a veteran talent who’s a proven scorer in DeRozan, rid themselves of Danny Green’s $10 million contract, and hauled in a potential long-term piece in Poeltl.

It’s by no means earth shattering, but DeRozan’s contract is relatively cap-friendly and he should serve as a decent stopgap solution while the franchise decides where it’s headed next.

The real loser in all this is DeRozan himself, who has been an incredible servant to the city of Toronto. So much so that fans and former Raptors alike were calling for the club to install a statue of him outside the Scotiabank Arena. He, on the other hand, took to Instagram earlier this morning to express his personal frustrations at having been shipped out by the team he gave so much to:

But, unfortunately for him, the NBA is a business first and if a franchise has an opportunity to better itself at the expense of one of its players (no matter how loyal) they’re probably going to take it, as the Raptors did today (successfully holding onto their two brightest prospects – OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam – in the process).

That said, the move comes shortly after Toronto’s brain trust told DeRozan he could be their Kobe Bryant (something Zach Lowe pointed out in his article earlier today) – a stark contrast to the reality, where he is, in actual fact, the first step towards a complete rebuild, should the Leonard gamble fail to pay off.

If it does, the immovable object will (to no one’s surprise) be on the move once again next summer.

Featured photo – via NBAE / Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration