On Wednesday July 18th, 2018 the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs agreed to the terms of a trade where the Raptors would receive Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and the Spurs would receive DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first round pick in the 2019 draft.
This appeared to be shocking to some fans since DeMar DeRozan was arguably the best basketball player to have suited up in the red and white and he was also the face of the franchise. Many fans were deeply saddened for their franchise player however this move was a tactical decision carefully made by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri and his team.
The Raptors are notoriously known for their spectacular regular season performances, finishing first in the same conference as LeBron James, and their subpar playoff performances, having never reached the NBA finals and being swept by the Cavaliers in the conference semi-finals two years in a row. It is evident that the current core and the all-star duo of Lowry and DeRozan just isn’t cut out to be a championship contending team. Management made their best efforts to try and make the dream a reality by adding key pieces such as Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic and other role players, however this did not seem to fuel them enough to make it through their own conference.
With the Kawhi Leonard trade, the Raptors statistically improve their prospects for the present and for the future. What the Raptors accomplished aside from making a huge splash in the NBA and breaking a many hearts is that they acquired an essential chess piece. Currently the Raptors’ hopes of escaping the east are still quite low, especially with now healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward of the Boston Celtics sitting as the favorites to come out of the east. What they did was bring over arguably the best two-way player other than LeBron James, to the eastern conference, making him unavailable for the likes of teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers who are one star away from being a legitimate championship contending team. There are many rumors stating that Leonard has no interest in staying with the Raptors, however they unloaded DeRozan’s heavy $27.7 million contract which still has three years left on it, for a $23.1 million contract. This may not seem like much but now the Raptors have the flexibility to trade Leonard to two teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers who are very interested in acquiring Leonard, especially the Lakers with newly acquired LeBron James having the opportunity to go from missing the playoffs last season, to legitimate championship contenders. The Lakers have young talent such as Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma whom they do not need to play for the title and would be willing to trade along with a draft pick. Leonard will become a free agent in the summer of 2019, however this will be a gamble for Magic Johnson and the Lakers as many teams will try and pursue him. The Raptors would benefit heavily by trading for these young talents along with using draft picks to kickstart their rebuilding process.
The DeRozan era may be over; however, fans of the game should rejoice, as he made the Raptors a relevant team in the NBA with his extraordinary performances in the regular season. The King will be missed, but the kingdom will live on.
Editor: Sarah Saeed