The Eastern Conference just got a lot more interesting. After months of following the Kawhi Leonard saga and wondering who would trade for him, the dust has finally settled. The Toronto Raptors traded All-Star G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick for F Kawhi Leonard and G Danny Green from the San Antonio Spurs. Now that Leonard has found a new home, was the deal any good? There’s a lot to consider in the aftermath of this trade. How healthy is Leonard? Did the Raptors make the right move in dealing for him? Did the Eastern Conference become more competitive? All these questions and more will be addressed in the coming months. All we can do now is speculate.
The biggest question surrounding Kawhi Leonard is his heath. Ever since suffering an ankle injury in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, Leonard hasn’t been the same. In September of 2017, Leonard began having issues with his right quad which sidelined him for 2017 preseason. Issues with his quad would limit Leonard to nine games on the season and start a storm of speculations about his health and his eventual return. Leonard played his last NBA game on January 13th despite being cleared to play since February. Everyone, including the San Antonio Spurs, is unaware of the severity of the injury. Reportedly, Leonard even hid from the Spurs when they went to visit him at a New York rehab facility.
Kawhi Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto, league source tells ESPN.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 18, 2018
Questions about the injury and his level of commitment deterred the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and others from putting their star players and young talent on the table. However, the Raptors felt confident enough to include DeRozan in a deal. According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto. That’s not surprising. News surrounding Leonard was focused on him playing in Los Angeles, preferring the Clippers. Leonard is likely to join the Clippers next year. That’s what makes the deal so risky. The Raptors traded one of their most loyal players and the face of the franchise for a guy who is likely to leave after this season.
How many trades can you recall where both of primary players involved are furious with the move? Kawhi Leonard asked to go home. Not out of the country. DeMar DeRozan has never wanted to leave Toronto.
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) July 18, 2018
The Toronto Raptors must have something in mind. The Raptors are always finding ways to get ahead, but this move seems extreme. The Raptors aren’t strangers to the extreme. Toronto fired Coach of the Year Dwane Casey after being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Perhaps the Raptors are hoping that a year of success, maybe even an NBA Finals appearance, will be enough to convince Leonard to buy into a long-term relationship with Toronto. The problem is that Leonard has shown no interest in playing anywhere that’s not Los Angeles. Based on Leonard’s current behavior, the Raptors will need an incredibly enticing pitch to keep Leonard.
San Antonio has agreed to trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick, league sources tell ESPN. Trade call with league office is beginning momentarily. https://t.co/6DZNdAs8BM
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 18, 2018
Is the Eastern Conference more competitive? It all depends on how healthy Leonard is. When Leonard is healthy, he’s one of the best players in the league and dramatically improves a team. Adding Leonard to a 59-win Toronto team makes them much deadlier. The Leonard deal makes games among the top teams of the conference (Boston, Toronto, and Philly) must-see TV. Matchups between a full-powered Celtics squad and a revamped Raptors team are matches that the NBA should be salivating over. Even a Raptors-Sixers contest should get the league excited. The Raptors were already contenders in the East with DeRozan, a healthy Leonard puts them on par with the Boston Celtics.
The conversation always comes back to health issues surrounding Leonard. His injury history is not great for a player entering his sixth campaign. Everyone is in the dark about his current level of play. If he’s still an MVP-caliber player, Toronto received a significant upgrade. If the injuries are catching up to him, Leonard’s days as an elite two-way player are numbered. This trade is big for the Raptors, Leonard, and the rest of the league. I believe the impact of this trade will be felt sooner rather than later. Everyone is anxious to see Leonard in action again and determine if Toronto got more than a one-year rental. I imagine we’ll be hearing a lot more about Leonard as the story unfolds. The NBA never fails to deliver the most interesting storylines of the summer.
I hope Kawhi owns a good winter jacket:
Kawhi when he gets to Toronto pic.twitter.com/rfbBb9dtSL
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) July 18, 2018
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