It’s been quite some time when the Toronto Raptors were the talk of an NBA offseason. This has been an absolute whirlwind so I’m just going to try and unpack my thoughts on here and see how I feel about the trade.
Why trade for 1 year of Kawhi Leonard?
The last NBA team to win the championship without having a top 10 player on their roster was the 2004 Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were not only an anomaly for that little piece of trivia, but they are one of the few modern NBA champions to build a starting unit consisting of five All-Star calibre players (Tayshaun Prince is the only one of the five to not make an All-Star team but his four all defensive second-team nods should give him a pass). You know… until this year’s Warriors…
When talking of Raptors championship aspirations these Pistons teams were kind of held up as a blueprint for how they could eventually topple the Warriors in the Finals (I think?). Well as constructed yesterday, the Raptors had two All-Stars in Lowry and Derozan, the ghost of Serge Ibaka, dinosaur center Jonas Valancunias and budding 3-and-D weapon OG Anonoby. While they supported that starting 5 with a very young and productive bench, this team clearly had a ceiling. A ceiling which was well below NBA champions and if that isn’t the end-goal then what the hell are we doing.
At his best Kawhi is a top-five player in the league that can dominate on both sides of the court. In my mind nobody in the league is as great of an option as the number 1 one shutdown defender on one side of the court while being a reliable scoring option on the other side of the court. Pairing Kawhi with Lowry and whichever young players remain when the dust settles raises the team’s ceiling immensely. The Raptors had one of the best benches in the NBA last year but if you can flip some depth for a legitimate star then you have to do it.
That being said trading for Kawhi Leonard is clearly a risk.
Kawhi has his warts
Now he could bounce for Los Angeles or New York in a year. Kawhi could be a diva from day one and refuse to listen to the Raptors brass. Some are suggesting that he might not be the same player as he was pre-injury. The doubters have a point in saying that the asking price is very hefty considering all of these red flags. But at a certain point you have to stop treading water and start to swim. Let’s just hope this trade doesn’t sink the Raptors.
It’s well worth the risk
At the end of the day I’m all in on this trade. Sometimes you have to give up Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to get Roberto Alomar. Without Lebron in the East it looked to be an arms race versus the up-and-coming Sixers and Celtics. But now the forever comfortable regular season Raptors of old have a legitimate claim at the NBA Finals.
While Kawhi might be a tough re-sign, keep in mind that a year ago people were already fitting Paul George for his Lakers jersey and when all was said and done George re-upped with the Thunder. Toronto is a hell of alot better of a city than Oklahoma.
Next year there’s no question that the Raptors will be better than last year. Kawhi for Demar is a huge upgrade and that’s not even a slight on DeRozan. Peak Kawhi is just that good. What is kind of lost in the trade is the fact that the Raps also picked up Danny Green who has shot a lifetime .395 from 3 and has suited up for 100 playoff games with the Spurs. With the additions of Green and Kawhi and the subtraction of Poeltl, the Raptors have an unbelievably versatile group who could see a bunch of their athletic wingers and forwards slide across three positions. This is a fun looking team who should now be the favourites in the East.
And if all else fails this move helps to kick start a rebuild that some people were calling for a year ago. If Kawhi walks then Toronto could finally just blow the entire thing up to get a shot at drafting lottery calibre players. I can’t stress enough that you can’t win without a superstar and this move more than anything else shows that the Raptors are going to make it happen whether it is now or down the road. A core of Lowry and DeRozan could clearly only take you so far.
Demar Derozan: The Quintessential Toronto Raptor
Now what shouldn’t be lost in this is that Demar Derozan has been a star both on and off the court for the city of Toronto. While at their peaks you can argue that Carter and Bosh were more effective players, Demar has worked his ass off since day one to be–in my mind–the face of this Raptors franchise.
Vince and Bosh each forced their way out of Toronto in situations that just were not handled well, but as time has worn on the nostalgia goggles have made the duo out to be champions for the city of Toronto.
When Derozan’s free agency hit in the summer of 2016, many thought he would bolt to his hometown LA Lakers. But he had built a home here in Canada and felt that the Raptors had some unfinished business (the money also didn’t hurt).
When all is said and done Derozan is Toronto’s franchise leader in games played, minutes played and points while making four all-star game appearances and two all-league teams. In my mind he is the best the franchise has had and it’ll be tough to see him go.
Bonus: THE BOYS ARE BACK
Just watch. Pop is going to have this Gay-Derozan tandem popping like nobody ever knew was possible. Giddy up