Toronto Raptors roll the dice on Kawhi Leonard by sending DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio Spurs in blockbuster trade

Jay Asser 18:20 18/07/2018
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Kawhi Leonard looks to be on his way out of San Antonio.

The Kawhi Leonard situation has finally reached a resolution.

The San Antonio Spurs have traded Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round draft pick, according to ESPN.

The first-round pick is protected 1-20 and will become two second-round selections if it isn’t conveyed next year.

Leonard, a Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, has reportedly been clear about his intention to join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency next summer, essentially making him a one-year rental for the Raptors.

DeRozan, meanwhile, was told by the Toronto front office during summer league in Las Vegas that he would not be traded, according to ESPN.

Unsurprisingly, neither Leonard or Derozan “is expressing enthusiasm for the deal”, according to EPSN’s report.

As word circulated of the Spurs and Raptors finalising a trade, DeRozan voiced displeasure on his Instagram story, where he wrote: “Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing…”

A four-time All-Star and member of the All-NBA Second Team this past season, DeRozan gives the Spurs an immediate star replacement for Leonard.

Unlike Leonard, he’s still under contract for the next two seasons at $27.7 million annually, while having a player option for 2020-21 for the same amount.

DeRozan isn’t on the same level as Leonard, who is a top-five player when healthy, but he would allow San Antonio to remain relatively competitive in Gregg Popovich’s final years as a coach before retiring.

The Spurs also get a rotation big in Poeltl, who averaged 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in his second season.

The draft pick will almost surely turn into two second-rounders as Toronto are expected to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference after upgrading from DeRozan to Leonard – if he’s healthy – following a season in which they won 59 games to earn the top seed.

That Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri managed to improve the team’s outlook for next season – and potentially beyond if Leonard re-signs – without surrendering one of their young players, namely OG Agunoby, makes the trade a worthwile gamble.

Agunoby, who was a vital cog in the Raptors’ starting five as rookie this past season, would have given San Antonio a young wing to build around for the future.

His inclusion may have been a deal-breaker for Toronto without any assurances that Leonard will re-sign next summer.

Wiping DeRozan’s substantial contract off the books while bringing in Leonard for only one season isn’t the worst outcome for the Raptors, but losing a promising two-way talent like Agunoby in the process would sting.

In a vacuum, Leonard would be more than worth it, but his desire to play for the Lakers and the shroud of mystery surrounding his injury makes him a massive unknown at the moment.

Still, the trade gives the Raptors the much-needed shake-up they’ve been seeking after their season came to a disappointing end once again.

After being knocked out with ease by the Cleveland Cavaliers the past three postseasons, Toronto may finally have a path to the Finals with LeBron James now a Laker.

Like the Oklahoma City Thunder tried to do (and succeeded) with Paul George, the Raptors will attempt to sell Leonard on their culture, their city and their ability to field a team that can contend for the title.

However, there’s a small chance – as miniscule as it is – that Leonard chooses to sit out the season. That seems inconceivable for a player who is in the prime of his career and is due to earn $20.1 million, but Leonard only played in nine games for San Antonio this past season despite reports the Spurs had cleared him to get back on the court.

With the way Leonard and his camp handled this past season, how he’ll respond now as a member of the Raptors is unpredictable.

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