Wednesday introduced one thing you don’t see on a regular basis within the topsy-turvy NBA: the trade of a top-five participant on the planet — and maybe the league’s most balanced superstar.

It clearly didn’t come out of left discipline, as Kawhi Leonard made it identified to the Spurs group that he badly wanted to be dealt. And it places a definitive punctuation mark on what had been an enchanted two-decade run of success in San Antonio. However the swap between the Spurs and the Raptors is fascinating for a handful of different causes too.

For starters, it’s not usually that a participant of Leonard’s age and caliber joins a crew that’s coming off a near-60-win season. (We’ve seen crazier things, in fact. However nonetheless.) A wholesome Leonard could be an apparent improve over Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan, largely due to how otherworldly Leonard is on the defensive finish. For some time, it seemed as if Toronto’s window is likely to be closing — Kyle Lowry is 32, the Celtics and Sixers are young and loaded, and it doesn’t matter what the Raptors did, they couldn’t find a way to beat LeBron within the Japanese Convention playoffs. However this transfer (and LeBron’s relocation to the West) figures to completely maximize no matter time Toronto has left to contend.

A number of noteworthy factors in Toronto’s favor: Danny Inexperienced — whom the Raptors additionally picked up within the commerce — should be helpful even when he’s not an amazing function participant anymore. His “three and D” traits might come in useful during a playoff series, and you’ll all the time get most effort out of him in conditions the place transition protection is required. (Over the previous 5 seasons, no NBA participant has defended extra pictures in transition per 100 possessions than Inexperienced, in line with knowledge from Second Spectrum.) It’s additionally stunning that the Raptors didn’t must half with one other younger, promising participant like wing OG Anunoby or ahead Pascal Siakam in an effort to get this executed.

Maybe most significantly, no matter how this gamble performs out — even when the 27-year-old Leonard decides he completely desires to depart Canada after this season — getting out from underneath the final couple years of DeRozan’s five-year, $139 million contract is an effective factor, since his presence on the roster most likely wouldn’t have been sufficient to maintain Toronto within the dialog for a title in the long run.

Regardless of most parts of the commerce being to the Raptors’ profit,1 Toronto gained’t essentially win extra because of the deal. Our CARMELO projection model has the Raps successful 56 video games with Leonard and Inexperienced on the crew, three fewer wins than Toronto had final yr. A few of that’s the uncertainty that the system has about Leonard’s well being, after he missed the overwhelming majority of this previous season. Nevertheless it additionally speaks to the idea that Toronto’s gamers is likely to be due for a regression to the imply after wildly overperforming expectations in 2017-2018. (Even when Leonard is totally wholesome, our mannequin has the Raptors successful about 60 video games, only one greater than their whole from final season.)

What the Raptors appear like with Kawhi

Projected depth chart for the hypothetical 2018-19 Toronto Raptors, with CARMELO participant projected plus/minus

Projected Plus/Minus
PGKyle Lowry3230+four.three-Zero.2+four.1
Fred VanVleet2420+1.5-Zero.2+1.three
SGDanny Inexperienced3121-1.four+1.four+Zero.Zero
Delon Wright2620+Zero.7+Zero.5+1.three
C.J. Miles3114+Zero.2-1.four-1.2
SFKawhi Leonard2726+2.5+1.eight+four.2
OG Anunoby2125+Zero.four+Zero.5+Zero.9
Norman Powell25eight-1.2-1.Zero-2.2
PFSerge Ibaka2924-1.1+Zero.7-Zero.three
CJonas Valanciunas2624-Zero.four+1.Zero+Zero.7
Pascal Siakam2422-Zero.eight+1.2+Zero.5
Substitute-level gamers-1.7+1.1-Zero.5
Crew whole240+three.1+2.9+6.Zero

Age as of Feb. 1, 2019.


As for the Spurs, this summer time of discontent can’t finish shortly sufficient. In DeRozan, they’ll get a bona fide scorer, however one who solely partially matches their units and schemes on both facet of the ball. (Largely the midrange shooting part.) They’ll get Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick out of the deal, however in dropping Inexperienced, they lose one other piece of the tradition that coach Gregg Popovich spent years constructing. San Antonio has some young talent on its roster, however with out their longest-standing veterans — leaving Manu Ginobili’s choice about whether or not to retire apart in the intervening time — the Spurs as we knew them aren’t any extra. And that might be fascinating since Popovich figures to be in his previous few years because the crew’s coach — an odd time to principally be beginning over.

The unusual parts surrounding this deal make it exhausting to decipher how effectively both crew made out. The Spurs didn’t web almost as a lot as you’d assume they might have for a participant like Leonard. Other than his damage, they had been additionally probably harm by his well-known need to affix the Lakers — which might cease groups from providing their greatest property since he might go away them excessive and dry in 2019, when he’s eligible to change into a free agent.

In the meantime, Toronto could be sensible to copy what Oklahoma City just did with Paul George and use this whole yr as a possibility to recruit Leonard to stick with the crew as soon as he can choose out. Chris Haynes of ESPN is already reporting that Leonard isn’t looking forward to the transfer north. However he joins a membership that has a reliable likelihood to make the NBA Finals — one within the East, with a far easier path than the Lakers could have this season.

The Raptors had been already taking a fairly sizable swing heading into this season, having fired the coach of the year, all as a result of they knew one thing needed to change to get the crew over the hump within the playoffs. So, no — they don’t know precisely what the possibilities are of Leonard staying past this yr. However as a crew that’s in the luxury tax already, with a star level guard who isn’t getting any youthful, the gamble is sensible — even when there’s a good quantity of threat related to it. This is likely to be their greatest, final shot to achieve the Finals, and Leonard might actually assist them get there.

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