Kawhi Leonard

Roundtable: Reacting to the Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan trade

After seeing Kawhi Leonard’s highly publicized saga with the San Antonio Spurs come to an end via a trade to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, several members of the Society gathered for a roundtable discussion dissecting the trade, it’s repercussions and what it means for both franchises going forward. Our participants are:

1. Kawhi Leonard is headed to the North and DeMar DeRozan will now be under Coach Pop’s wing. Grade the trade for both sides.

Boyer: A’s all-around. I’m a fan of this trade for both teams. San Antonio gets to purge themselves of the Kawhi Leonard drama and move forward with an All-NBA guard that will still allow them to compete and remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Raptors get an MVP candidate that they’ll spend close to a year attempting to convince that Toronto is the right place to commit long-term. If the Raptors whiff on retaining Leonard, and he indeed does relocate to Los Angeles (or elsewhere) next summer, Toronto will be in the midst of the rebuild they were going to have a difficult time avoiding if their team remained centered around DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Walt: Raptors: B-, Spurs: A

The Raptors acquired the best player in this deal, but that doesn’t mean they get the highest grade. Kawhi Leonard is on an expiring contract and hasn’t committed to his future with the organization. Danny Green, the additional piece, is also on an expiring deal. There’s a chance both Green and Leonard will not be on the Raptors next season. I can’t give anything higher than a B- right now. The grade plummets if Leonard leaves.

The Spurs maximized their value for Kawhi Leonard. They traded the face of the franchise for a star player who will immediately take that title. DeMar DeRozan averaged 23 points or more per game these last three seasons and posted a career high in assists per game last season. He’s also turning 29 and has plenty of quality seasons left in the tank. San Antonio also acquired Jakob Poeltl who posted career highs in five categories last season. The Spurs managed to stay competitive in their life after Leonard.

Kawhi Leonard

DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi have swapped conferences. Photo via: Getty Images

Kirkland: A’s all around for me as well. The Raptors are brilliant for this trade in that it was time to realize that what they had did not work. As I wait for Portland and Washington to do the same with their backcourt duos, San Antonio gets what was probably the best offer they could while avoiding donating Kawhi Leonard to a conference rival. Toronto gets to continue to put butts in seats and field a highly competitive playoff team in the East while convincing Leonard to possibly stay.  If he walks? They will have a bunch of money to pursue free agents going forward. Win-win. 

Allan: I would say that this is a B for the Raptors and that the Spurs won this trade, so I am going to give them an A-. The Raptors acquired the best player in the deal but as Justin said, Leonard’s contract is expiring and from what Kawhi has expressed, his true playing interest seems to lie with Los Angeles, so this is a big risk to move on from your franchise leading scorer to obtain a (potential) rental. They did improve significantly with Leonard as he is an upgrade on both offense and defense, and will fit well with Lowry.

For the Spurs, they can now move on from Kawhi Leonard…officially. The saga was something that was hampering the franchise and the direction they wanted to go in. Did they want to really tank and acquire only picks for Leonard, or did they want to get a ‘right now’ answer in return? They got their right now answer in DeRozan. DeRozan’s going to carry over the 23 points per game he averaged last year and look to work that into Popovich’s system which always seems to bring the best out of players.

Anderson: I like the outcome for both sides in this trade. For the Raptors, I would give them a B and the Spurs an A. The Raptors gave up their most loyal franchise player just like that for, possibly, a one-year rental in Kawhi Leonard. It’s hard for DeMar DeRozan because he knows, just like every Raptors fan out there, that he was the core of their team and averaged strong numbers every year. Seeing him get shipped to San Antonio is hard, but its business and we must move on. On San Antonio’s part, DeRozan is going to be a good replacement for Leonard in Pop’s system. The Spurs won this trade because it’s scary for Toronto knowing that Leonard has his eyes set on Los Angeles in 2019, so they will need to make an immediate impact this year in the Eastern Conference.

2. Do you think it’s 100% certain that Leonard will be nothing more than a one-year rental for the Raptors?

Boyer: Pretty close to it, but if I’m the Raptors I don’t mind. When an episode like this occurs, we’re constantly reminded that “basketball is a business,” and with business comes the inclusion of risk. Raptors president Masai Ujiri understands that trading for Leonard is a huge gamble, and I doubt he completed the deal with the assumption that re-signing Leonard is even close to guaranteed. Still, betting on the Raptors’ culture to sway Leonard is a worthwhile wager. If Leonard decides to re-up with Toronto, the Raptors will have a deep roster spearheaded by a top-five NBA player and can remain a perennial contender for the Eastern Conference crown for years. If things fall by the wayside and Leonard is either moved at the trade deadline or makes an immediate dash in free agency, the Raptors, still furnished with the young talent they didn’t surrender in the deal to get Leonard, hit a re-tooling phase that was soon to come anyway. We watched a similar situation play out last summer with Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and although there are considerable differences between the two scenarios, the idea remains the same: up the ante on yourself, and see how things unfold. George spurned several suitors, most notably the Lakers, in lieu of returning to OKC, and the Raptors are hoping Leonard does the same. For now, it seems like a pipedream, but a lot can change in 365 days.

Walt: I’ll say 99 percent because there’s no guarantee. It’s looking most likely, but Leonard has yet to meet his coaches and teammates. Even yet, he’s yet to interact with the people of Toronto. Toronto is an extremely passionate sports city and has proved over the years they have their teams back. This will be easier to answer as the season goes along, but as of now, it’s likely he leaves at the end of the season.

Kirkland: Kawhi Leonard is off to Toronto to play in a city that worships the Raptors and the stars that play for them. They have reinvented their brand, uniforms, and arena, and play in the Eastern Conference where they will easily compete with Boston and Philly for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. That is a lot of winning basketball in a situation where Kawhi’s brilliance won’t be overshadowed by Gregg Popovich’s system or possibly a LeBron James/Magic Johnson run Lakers team. A lot of us are assuming that he’s going to leave after one year but this will be an elite defensive team that will play deep into the playoffs. I find it hard to think that if they enjoy success this year and make the Conference Finals that Kawhi would leave in such a hurry.

Allan: It all depends on their success. If the Raptors repeated their unsuccessful playoff run, then Leonard will most likely leave, especially if it seems inevitable that LeBron and the Lakers would be one superstar away. If the success comes, and the Raptors show why having Leonard and building around he and Lowry could create multiple Finals appearances, then the chances highly increase. I also think that the city of Toronto really needs to show why he’d want to stay. Leonard had a falling out with the Spurs organization, not the city of San Antonio. From hearing stories on Kawhi, he is a guy that likes to go under the radar, and being in Toronto can cater to that.

Anderson: I wouldn’t say 100% certain, but it’s definitely more than likely it’ll be a one-and-done deal. Anything could happen in getting Leonard to change his mind on joining an L.A. team next summer and Toronto has the pieces convince him if they do it right. The way I see it, Toronto’s best chance of keeping Kawhi for multiple years is for the city to show love and appreciate him in a Raptors jersey. Now, it’s hard to agree with that when Leonard supposedly has “no desire to play for Toronto,” so someone may have to call Drake to speak to Leonard and help the city keep him for the future.

3. In the short-term, can the Spurs still be a top-five playoff team in the West, and what does this mean for the franchise going forward?

Boyer: I believe that San Antonio will still sneak their way into the postseason, but I think a top-five seed is a little ambitious. I like Golden State, Houston, Utah, Los Angeles (Lakers) and even Oklahoma City more than them as currently constructed. Pepper in teams such as New Orleans, Portland, Minnesota and Denver, and you can see the reason for uncertainty regarding the Spurs’ playoff position. Going forward, nothing about this has a feeling of permanency. Maybe it’s because of the uncomfortable climate surrounding the trade or just the qualms I have about this Spurs team as a whole, but I don’t see DeMar DeRozan remaining a San Antonio Spur for the duration of his current contract, which includes a player option in 2020. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Spurs view DeRozan as an All-Star quality placeholder to keep them humming from a competitive standpoint as they figure out how they want to navigate the post Coach Pop waters once he decides to walk away from the game. 

Walt: I believe the Spurs can still be a top-five team in the Western Conference. They were the seventh seed without Kawhi Leonard, so with DeMar DeRozan and rookie Lonnie Walker IV, the Spurs have made the upgrades to make noise in the West. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are the likely top two teams. I think San Antonio is as good as the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers to place in the top five.

Kirkland: They will be in the neighborhood for sure. The team has a long-standing formula of excellence and if anyone can get DeRozan going it will be Popovich and his staff. They still have enough depth and young legs going forward to be a nice destination for free agents or trades if this experiment does not work. Going forward, they can just hold the tide of depth and find the star pieces they need to rise back up to the top of the West.

Kawhi Leonard

Gregg Popovich will look to seamlessly plug DeMar DeRozan into his system (Photo via Sports Illustrated)

Allan: They’ll be right on the cusp of a five seed if one had to predict right now. After the top two teams in the Western Conference in Golden State and Houston, it is pretty much a crap shoot for the rest of the teams. I think that with DeRozan, the Spurs obviously improve from last year without Kawhi. Last season they were seventh so the room to improve is there barring injury. Most teams in the West they’d be competing with haven’t added as much as they have in terms of star power besides the Los Angeles Lakers and Warriors, so that’s an added bonus as well. 

Anderson: If not the fourth or fifth seed, I see them looking up at the sixth or seventh spot and making an appearance in the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors in scoring last season with 23 points per game. With a system ran by Popovich, I see DeRozan rolling early and the Spurs getting off to a hot start in the West. DeRozan is a consistent player and with the help from LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Patty Mills, they’ll still be a very competitive team in the West in the mix for a high playoff spot.

4. True or False: This Raptors team, with a fully healthy and engaged Kawhi, can compete with the Celtics and 76ers in the East.

Boyer: True, but I’m aware of what that truth hinges on. Regardless, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas is a DAMN good starting lineup, and I didn’t even mention their key guys off the bench in OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, and Pascal Siakam. Toronto now boasts a top-five player, savvy, playoff-tested veterans and a host of talented, young players, which makes for a roster eager to prove that last year’s playoff flameout was the last postseason hiccup you’ll get out of the Raptors. Boston has depth, talent and coaching to combat Toronto and Philadelphia has two unicorns in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the former who I have billed as a darkhorse MVP candidate this season, but I think on their best night’s, Toronto will show that they can compete with anyone in the East.

Walt: False. Leonard needs help if he wants to beat the Celtics or 76ers. Kyle Lowry has shown past struggles in the postseason, so if his second best player isn’t around come playoff time, Leonard won’t make it through a seven-game series. He’s also playing under Nick Nurse, who’s never coached in a playoff game. Leonard is a game changer and will be the best player on the floor when playing those two teams, but both are prepared to slow him down on the wing.

Kirkland: I think the Celtics are in a tier one category alone in the East with a fully healthy roster. After them, the Raptors are right there with Philly for the second best team in the East. Toronto will be a top 3-5 defensive team with a bunch of high IQ guys on offense that has several seasons of playoff basketball under their belts. I’m not sold on Kyle Lowry simply being a bum even though his playoff struggles have largely led people to believe that he is an overrated player. Last year he posted 16 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game to go along with 39% from beyond. I think any team would take that production from their point guard. Playing with a great two-way player like Kawhi, who when healthy is better than DeRozan, may help to provide some juice for Lowry’s career.

Allan: I think that they will compete but fall short of those two teams. The help for Leonard is there in Lowry and Valanciunas, but the problem lies within his head coach who is more of an unknown than anything else because of no playoff experience.

Anderson: Yes, I believe that’s true, but I wouldn’t put them above either of those teams. The Celtics are the most complete team in the Eastern Conference and have a very good chance of making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals next year. The Sixers are still on the rise with little playoff experience between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If the Raptors could stay healthy with Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and now Kawhi Leonard, they could definitely compete, but not so sure of winning in the end.

5. Who will warm up first to their new situation: DeRozan or Leonard?

Kawhi Leonard

DeMar DeRozan will look to be the new face of the San Antonio Spurs. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Boyer: DeRozan. DeMar is unnerved by Toronto’s reported breach of trust as he met with Raptors officials in Las Vegas during Summer League and walked away with a reaffirmation in his mind that he would not be traded. The Raptors’ betrayal of DeRozan’s faith may spell for a relationship between the two parties that cannot be mended, but I think once he gets over that, he’ll find his new basketball setting in San Antonio to be invigorating.

Walt: This one for me is easy: DeMar DeRozan. Yes, DeRozan didn’t demand a trade, but Leonard was a completely different person this past season. He’s been unhappy with the Spurs and there are reports that Leonard doesn’t want to play for Toronto. If Leonard is already unhappy, there’s no guarantee that will change anytime soon. DeRozan will be on board as soon as he meets Coach Popovich.

Kirkland: DeRozan simply because he is coming into a more stable situation. The Raptors will have a new star and a new coach and there will be an adjustment period. DeMar gets the benefit of one of the greatest coaches in sports history already having a system ready-made for him to walk into. Toronto will go through some growing pains.

Allan: I would say DeRozan because he feels slighted more than ever. He was the franchise leading scorer and a star in the country of Canada. He was traded for someone who is far from a guarantee to committing to Toronto. DeRozan may have really felt that he wanted to stay in Toronto for the rest of his career. He is also going to be under NBA coaching legend Gregg Popovich, as compared to Leonard starting out with an unknown at head coach. It is just an easier transition for DeRozan. 

Anderson: I have to go with DeMar DeRozan. What I’m excited about most is how DeRozan and Gregg Popovich are going to work together next season with a pretty decent squad in the West. Kawhi Leonard has caused nothing but drama this past season and current offseason with his hopes of joining the Lakers. If Leonard holds out some games, despite the fines and anything else he may have to face, I don’t see that as being professional. DeRozan will warm up first without question if Leonard doesn’t get his act together.

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