Winners, Losers and Takeaways from Raptors-Spurs Trade for Kawhi Leonard

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Toronto Raptors

Agonize over the Raptors’ decision-making here if you must. They gave up a lot for a player who, as ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes noted, doesn’t want to be in Toronto. 

But that player also happens to be a top-five megastar when healthy. The Raptors weren’t getting anyone of Leonard’s caliber another way. They entered this summer without cap space. Next year will be no different. They don’t have the wiggle room necessary to sign a star until 2020 at the earliest, by which time DeRozan will be entering his age-31 season (player option) and Kyle Lowry will be a 34-year-old free agent.

Starting over would make more sense by that point. Leonard helps elevate the Raptors closer to championship-contender status without bilking them of that option. And by getting off the $83.2 million DeRozan is owed through 2020-21, their worst-case scenario of losing Leonard leaves them much leaner than before.

Adding Green as part of the blockbuster is a low-key steal, and the Raptors mortgage only so much of their future by forking over Poeltl and a protected first-rounder. They win this trade. 

                            

Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard is not a member of the Lakers. That in itself is a win for the Clippers.

Forcing his way into a purple-and-gold jersey, alongside LeBron James, remained Leonard’s primary objective, according to Wojnarowski and his colleague Ramona Shelburne. For him to end up anywhere else gives the Clippers a better crack at turning his Hollywood infatuation into an affinity for Staples Center’s other team. 

This dispatch from ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright during an appearance on the Back to Back podcast looms large (h/t Def Pen Hoops’ Rob Lopez):

“Well, contrary to, and I don’t know if it’s changed. I think that’s what happened. Things have changed. But the Lakers are not Kawhi’s preferred destination anymore. He wants to go to the Clippers. He doesn’t want to go and be second fiddle to LeBron. That’s what I was told. And [it] was by somebody that would know. And so right now, the Clippers are where he wants to go. But I’m also told, like you know, I talked to people within the Spurs organization and they’re like, ‘well yeah he wants to go to the Clippers, but their assets are s–t at this point.’ That’s what I was told.”

Landing Leonard outright would have clearly been better for the Clippers. But, as Wright pointed out, they never had the assets to make this deal. They always needed to recruit him from scratch.

And with a clear path to north of $60 million in cap space next summer, they’ll welcome that undertaking—now more so than ever knowing the Lakers aren’t getting a one year head start.

                                   

Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Clippers 

Re-entering the Western Conference’s postseason bloodbath is now a little bit easier. 

Don’t get this twisted: It remains ridiculously, unfairly, unfathomably, irreversibly, can-the-NBA-just-get-rid-of-conferences-already hard. San Antonio won 47 games without Leonard for most of last season and are hardly left barren without him. Roughly 13 of the 15 teams in the West can talk themselves into chasing playoff bids.

Still, the Spurs are no longer the Spurs, for real this time, and that bodes well for the Mavericks, Nuggets, Grizzlies, Suns and Clippers—fringe-lottery teams angling for returns to late-April basketball.

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