Earlier this week it was reported that, despite the fact that many other teams were in the mix, the team who was the leader to trade for unhappy San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard was the Toronto Raptors. The Spurs were not looking to rebuild with prospects following the departure of their star Kawhi Leonard, they were a playoff team last season without Leonard and have a roster filled with veteran players who are ready to compete, the Spurs were looking to reload and get the best player available for Kawhi Leonard. The Toronto Raptors were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference last season before getting swept by the Cavs in the playoffs, they fired head coach Dwayne Casey after the season, and made it clear that nobody was untouchable as they planned to shake the roster up. So they trade their All Star wing DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs, one of the best scorers in basketball, and land one of the best overall players in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard.
It’s clear that 69-year-old head coach Gregg Popovich does not want to rebuild the Spurs around the young players who were available in a Kawhi Leonard trade, such as the Lakers youth (combinations of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart were rumored to be included in discussions), with a core of DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker and whoever else the Spurs get back in the Kawhi deal the Spurs can contend in the West right now. Remember, this was a playoff team last year without Kawhi, and they added one of the best scorers in basketball DeMar DeRozan who is still in his prime at 28-years-old with three seasons left on his deal
This trade is far more risky for the Toronto Raptors, for two reasons 1) is Kawhi healthy and 2) will Kawhi, who is entering the final year of his deal, stay in Toronto long term. Kawhi Leonard missed nearly the entire 2017-2018 season with a mystery quad injury, as he and the Spurs battled about how the treatment should be handled publicly, which was part this unhappy divorce. Is Kawhi healthy? Was this injury more serious than initially thought? Will the quad continue to hamper Kawhi throughout his career? Was he just sitting out because he was upset with the Spurs who were questioning his injury? However, this was also about the money, make no mistake about it. There is no doubt Kawhi is a max player, if he is healthy, he will sign a max contract next summer. However, apparently his uncle who advises him wanted Kawhi out of small market San Antonio so he could get more lucrative endorsements and a bigger shoe deal, and while the Raptors have a passionate fan base the city is not exactly New York or Los Angeles. The Raptors need to sell Kawhi on staying in Toronto long term right now, like the Thunder were able to sell Paul George on Oklahoma City, because if Kawhi bolts for the bright lights of his hometown Los Angeles to play with LeBron as a free agent next summer this trade was a big mistake for the Raptors.
The Raptors were contenders in the East as previously constructed, with LeBron (who owned them) out of the conference they should have had an easy path to the conference finals next season, and they will be a great team with a healthy Kawhi Leonard. However, they must lock him up for the future, or this one year gamble will not pay off and the Raptors will find themselves in rebuilding mode without assets.
UPDATE: The official deal is Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green (who is in the last season of his contract) to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a heavily protected 2019 first round pick which would become two 2020 second round picks of it fails to meet the protections.