Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James

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Kawhi Leonard Trade

The NBA never sleeps.

July 18, 2018 - 9:28 am
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Just when you thought the MLB All-Star Game was going to be the big topic of the day. Or maybe the trade of Manny Machado. Just when you thought it was safe to go to sleep, Adrian Wojnarowski does what Adrian Wojnarowski does and drops a bomb.

4:23AM ET: Toronto is close to a deal to acquire Spurs All-Star Kawhi Leonard, league sources tell @chrisbhaynes and me. Trade package includes DeMar DeRozan, league sources tell ESPN.

Bam! The NBA never sleeps and Woj never sleeps. And that is why the NBA offseason is one of the best seasons there is. Because there is always action and there is always drama. And right there you have two of the best players in the game being traded for each other in the middle of the night in the middle of the week in the middle of July.

HELL YES!

According to Woj, the deal is this: Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. 

And if you really want to get into the weeds on this, the first round pick is a protected 1-20 selection. After one year, it becomes two second-round picks.

But that’s just the headline. Because there is a hell of a lot to unpack here. First off, is Kawhi healthy? Obviously Toronto isn’t signing off on this deal if they don’t think he is or if they believe their medical staff can’t get him back to what he was. And then there’s this tweet from Chris Haynes: ‘Kawhi Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto, league source tells ESPN.’

UH-OH!!! One thing to say that he’s not fired up about playing north of the border, but “no desire to play in Toronto” is kick in the junk to Raptors fans. Because now you’re getting a guy who’s coming off an injury, who’s a mystery to begin with, and everything about him in the last year has been really weird, and has reportedly already decided he doesn’t want to play in your city. Fantastic. 

And based on how he handled last season with San Antonio, you almost have to wonder if he’ll even show, and no, I don’t want to hear about what it would cost him if he doesn’t show, because the guy could have had the super max with the Spurs and already left that on the table.

And then there’s the DeMar DeRozan side of the equation. According to Haynes, DeRozan met with Raptors officials in Las Vegas and received assurances that he wouldn’t be traded. And now he’s been traded. Awkward. 

DeRozan posted an Instagram story this morning that included: "Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can't trust em. Ain't no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing... Soon you'll understand... Don't disturb..."

In other words, you just traded a guy who never wanted to leave Toronto for someone he never wanted to come to Toronto.  That’s a huge swing.  And an even bigger gamble.   An all-time gamble by Masai Ujiri. 

A franchise that has struggled in the past to get free agents just traded away an All-Star and an Olympian who wanted to stay there in the worst way. And they did it to get a guy who has no desire to play there.  

But I see Masai Ujiri working. He knows it’s a risk, but he also knows that the roster as it was currently constructed was really good, but not good enough. Especially when it mattered most: the postseason. Masai isn’t interested in having a good team, he wants a great team. And this is a chance to get an MVP candidate. Those chances don’t come around very often. So he pulled the trigger. And I love it. 

He knows the risk, but he also has a ton of confidence in his organization that they can pull was OKC did with Paul George. That when Kawhi gets a chance to experience that crowd, to feel the 6, to embrace the North, to see the fans in Jurassic Park, that he’ll want to stay and re-sign. 

Then again, Kawhi could stick to his guns and leave as soon as he can and makes life miserable before then. That’s the risk. And the fact that Masai is willing to take it shows he’s got a brass yet.   And I respect the hell out of it.

And of course, the next question is: who won the trade? And the answer is: Team Content. In terms of which NBA team won it…check back with me in a year. If the Raptors convince Kawhi to stay and he’s still the player he once was, or near it, then they won the trade. If he walks, they lost. 

From the Spurs standpoint? Almost impossible to win a trade when you trade an MVP candidate in his prime, but given that he had a gun to their head, made it clear he didn’t want to be there, and all the other unknowns, they did all right to get an established all-star in return. Let’s face if, they were never going to get what they wanted for this guy; teams are leery to part with assets for a guy who might be nothing more than a one year rental, who may not be the player he was and frankly, a guy you really can’t trust.

The Spurs get an established All-Star and Olympian for an MVP candidate who wanted out. That’s not horrible. And with DeRozan and Lamarcus Aldridge, the mid-range game in San Antonio is going to be absolutely legendary.  

AND WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE LAKERS? Shouldn’t they have learned from the Paul George situation and jumped in on this, to lock up Kawhi and make sure he comes to them? Or are they happy to see him going somewhere he doesn’t want to be and do you go into free agency feeling very confident that he’ll sign with you next July? Sure, there are other options in the 2019 free agent class, but if Kawhi re-signs with Toronto the year after PG signed with OKC, and plays well, LA is going to look pretty stupid.  

We won’t really know who won until this time next year. You want to declare a winner right now? There isn’t one. Other than all the hot takers spewing lava, saying they know how this is all going to shake out, when in reality, no one does.

Go back a year. OKC won that trade with Indiana when they got Paul George for what appeared to be spare parts. Indiana was getting absolutely killed for that deal. But then Victor Oladipo blows up into an All-Star and Domantas Sabonis averages 12 and 8, and suddenly OKC looks like they got destroyed in a deal where they gave up too much to get a guy who was just going to sign with the Lakers in a few months. And it looked like they lost that deal. Until PG re-signed. That’s multiple swings back and forth in a matter of months. 

Which means this trade isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning. So no one knows jack. I can only say this. Masai Ujiri has a brass set. The Spurs realistically, were not going to get any more for a guy who didn’t want to be there and could be nothing more than a rental. And it’s too soon to say how it bad it looks for the Lakers, but if Kawhi was there guy, and he ends up staying in Toronto, they’re going to look pretty stupid. Especially, if no one else in the 2019 class signs with them.