What a year for the NBA. New and unexpected rookies Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell became stars, teams like the Houston Rockets attempted a coup against a historically great dynasty in Golden State, and All-Star talent changed teams like there was no tomorrow.
Snagging MVP talent is franchise changing. Kevin Durant and LeBron James have both altered the NBA landscape before by changing teams and now, perennial MVP contender Kawhi Leonard continues the trend.
The San Antonio Spurs finally put an end to the Kawhi Leonard drama by trading Leonard and Shooting Guard Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for All-star Demar DeRozan, Austrian Center Jakob Poetl, and a top 20 protected 2019 first round draft pick.
Rumors surrounding Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs and Head Coach Gregg Popovich have simmered all year. Leonard’s “group” having him rehab away from the team in NY. Leonard’s reputation around the league suffered after it was revealed he was cleared to play, but refused to.
Namely, Kawhi has been quite the dick to one of the greatest organizations and coaches of all time. He has absolutely every right as a player to choose where he plays; however, choosing to not honor your contract, a contract with your hometown team no less, is in poor form. The soft spoken man of San Antonio is no more.
Winner: Toronto Raptors
Trading All-Star Demar DeRozan and the two years (2020-21 is a player option) left on his contract was a risk, but keeping the soon to be 29 year old and Toronto’s current core outweighed the positive benefits of competing as is.
Kawhi Leonard and Demar DeRozan both profile as 6’7” 3 & D guards- except in Kawhi’s last healthy season in 2016’-17’, he bested DeRozan in attempting 3’s, defensive, offensive and total rebound percentage, steal and block percentage all while using the ball 12 percent less.
In league which increasingly values three-pointers, Kawhi made 60 more three pointers than DeRozan at a better three point percentage (38% to 31%). His floor spacing is second to none which leads to open cuts to the basket and drives.
His fit in Toronto will be superb. He’ll open up drives for the criminally underrated Kyle Lowry, set the example for potential 3 & D players like OG Anunoby and have big men he can run pick and roll sets with in Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.
Oh, and if Kawhi somehow doesn’t fit with Toronto’s core or his poor attitude carries over to the north? His contract expires after this season, giving Toronto ample cap space for 2019 to either resign him or sign a free agent in a star heavy off season.
Having a playoff competitor like San Antonio lose an MVP candidate has to be at the very least reassuring for what is shaping up to be a turbulent season in Los Angeles. LeBron can kick back, play stress free NBA ball while he learns to play with his new teammates.
This is not about Demar DeRozan. He was a great player in Toronto, making multiple All-Star teams and even an All-NBA Second Team. DeRozan has even expanded his offensive game (attempting almost 300 three-pointers for the first time in his career) and improved defensively the past couple years which suggests under the right couch he could improve further. Being coached by the GOAT of coaches will probably help him as well.