The Raptors are in a spot right now that they’ve never been in before. Headlining trade rumours. The Raps have now inserted their name into the Kawhi Leonard drama with Instagram deletions and whispers from reporters like Brian Windhorst.
After he won his 2nd straight Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016 with the Spurs, it wasn’t plausible to think of Kawhi being on any other team, much less the Raptors. Now, it seems like at least a shot in the dark, which is something.
You know the story. Kawhi’s initial injury occurred in last year’s Conference Finals when he landed on Zaza Pachulia, and missed the remainder of that series. Supposedly, that injury healed over the summer, and then tendinitis kept him out until December, where he played 9 games on a minute’s restriction, before suffering from a partial tear in his shoulder, and missing the rest of the season and the playoffs. In handling the situation, Kawhi has been the exact opposite of professional, something uncharacteristic of the Spurs organization. After returning for just one game, there became blurred lines as to what happened. He was cleared by team doctors, but his own doctors kept him out, Popovich said some ambiguous Popovich-esque things about him, Tony Parker said some things, and so on. There is serious discontent between the two parties, and according to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kawhi has made it clear that he wants to leave the team in 2019 for the Lakers when he hits free agency.
But, last time we checked, it’s still 2018, so any team can be in the mix for a trade. The Clippers have also been rumoured to be pursuing their local superstar. As for the 76ers, and Celtics, they both have a plethora of young pieces, and picks that they can offer the Spurs, and even if it is just a one year rental, he would give either team a legit possibility at winning the championship, or at least the edge over the other to play the Warriors in the finals.
That brings up the question as to whether it’s even worth it for the Raptors to trade for Kawhi. If he’s just going to leave for L.A. next offseason, why throw away assets at trying to get him and be stuck with nothing for a year? Well, there’s always a possibility that you could re-sign him, and continue to move forward around the 27 year old. It is a similar situation to how the Thunder traded for Paul George last offseason, after he too stated that he would like to sign with the Lakers upon becoming a free agent. Fast forward a year, and he is locked up in OKC blue for 4 more years having never even met with Magic Johnson.
Is it really even realistic though? Well take it with a grain of salt, but just days after Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post reported that the Raptors were “generating buzz” in the Kawhi sweepstakes, OddsShark has the Raptors with the best odds at landing the Spurs star.
So let’s say that Masai decided to pull the trigger on this one. Turn the infamous two-year window into more of a one-year window, and then play it by ear. What exactly would the trade entail?
The Spurs aren’t trading their former franchise cornerstone for peanuts, so it would most likely have to involve one of Lowry or DeRozan. With Lowry being on the wrong side of thirty, having the more expensive contract in terms of average salary, and at this point in his career, being the inferior player to DeRozan, it would probably be DeRozan as the meat that San Antonio gets in return. Welse? The Spurs would probably need OG Anunoby, the Raptors standout rookie as well, and perhaps the best asset on the team. Throw in one of Jakob Poeltl, or Delon Wright. I’m assuming the Raptors’ offer would be along these lines, however I expect that the Spurs would demand a future first round pick as well, and honestly, when you’re already giving up that much for an MVP caliber player, a first they shall get. Then, in order to make the money work, the Raptors would likely have to take back one of Danny Green, or Patty Mills.
Even if a trade like this did go through, it would hurt to see some of the young guys going, and hurt even more to see arguably the best player in franchise history depart, but when you get a player like Kawhi in return, something tells me it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.