The Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs recently engaged in a blockbuster trade, sending Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 2019 protected first-round pick. The deal earned plenty of criticisms, especially from Raptors fans who view the trade as a swap between their most loyal player and a possible one-year rental.
In an appearance on SportsCenter, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN believes the Raptors made a huge gamble by trading for Kawhi Leonard. The 27-year-old small forward is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and in the past months, rumors and speculations continue to swirl that he wants to join the Los Angeles Lakers. Woj revealed one of the major reasons why the Raptors pushed through with the deal.
“There’s no question this deal comes with great risk for Toronto,” Wojnarowski said, as transcribed by NESN. “In the end, they didn’t think they were good enough with the team they had to beat Boston, maybe even beat Philly. And they’re rolling the dice on a player who, when healthy, is a top three or four player in the league.”
Having the explosive backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors managed to earn the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference last season. Unfortunately, in the playoffs, they ended up being swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second consecutive year in the East semis. Now that James is playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Raptors will finally have more chance of fully dominating the East.
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) July 19, 2018
However, as Woj noted, the Raptors weren’t confident that their previous roster can beat East powerhouse teams like the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics, despite losing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward due to injury, have managed to reach the Eastern Conference finals and forced a Game 7 against James and the Cavaliers. The Celtics are expected to be a more dangerous team when Irving and Hayward return 100 percent healthy next season.
DeMar DeRozan is an incredible player but he failed to become consistent during the playoffs. When healthy, Kawhi Leonard is undeniably a better player than DeRozan on both ends of the floor. He will not only give the Raptors a reliable scoring option and floor-spacer, but he can also be tasked to defend the opposing team’s best player.
Regarding his uncertain future in Toronto, Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri is confident that they can convince Leonard to re-sign with them next summer. The Raptors believe they could do the same thing the Oklahoma City Thunder did to Paul George, who, like Leonard, also expressed his desire to join the Lakers.