Assessing The Damage: The Fallout From The Trade Between The Raptors-Spurs MegaDeal

Kawhi Leonard playing for the San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi Leonard playing for the San Antonio Spurs (By Jose Garcia, Licensed under CC BY 2.0, image link: flicker, cropped derivative)

After months of speculation, innuendo, and acrimony, the biggest deal left standing in the 2018 NBA offseason has now taken place, and altered the landscape of both of the Eastern and Western Conferences.

In the early morning hours of July 18th, 2018, the San Antonio Spurs agreed to terms with the Toronto Raptors, sending All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard to Toronto, in exchange for All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick.

The trade of Leonard ends a months-long saga in which Leonard and the Spurs had a colossal falling out, due to the former feeling misled about the diagnosis of his injured quadriceps muscle and antagonized by the way his team treated him during his absence, and the latter sense frustrated about the mercurial forward’s sudden change of heart, lack of communication, and potential bad influences in his inner circle.

The trade clearly has significant implications for the competitive landscapes of both teams, and the respective conferences they play in.

DeMar DeRozan playing for the Toronto Raptors
DeMar DeRozan playing for the Toronto Raptors  (By Keith Allison, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, image link: flicker, cropped derivative)

For one, Toronto breaks up a team that finished with the #1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference last year and won a franchise-record 59 games last year. But just as importantly, it breaks up the team’s foundational backcourt in DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowery. The fact that the Raptors dealt DeRozan in the first place sent shockwaves throughout Toronto and the rest of the league as a whole.

DeRozan was the first true borderline superstar – he was a Second-Team All-NBA selection this past season, and a Third-Team All-NBA selection the year before – whom the Raptors drafted and cultivated into the face of the franchise. More importantly, DeRozan was the rare star who actually wanted to stay in Toronto, which is even more significant considering Toronto watched former stars they drafted, like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, look for the first reasonable opportunity they could get to leave Canada.

DeRozan seemed devastated by the trade, based on reports from those close to him, and his reaction(s) on social media. That was only exacerbated by the fact that, amidst rumors the Raptors and Spurs were talking about such a trade, the Raptors front office directly promised DeRozan he would not be traded.


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Meanwhile, the Spurs are now left in a situation where three of the four core players from their championship-winning team in 2014 – Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker – are now gone, and Manu Ginobili is clearly past his prime. Leonard was supposed to be the “bridge” player that would carry this team over the next decade, but now he’s gone.

San Antonio does get DeRozan, and can pair him with LaMarcus Aldridge, but is that enough? In a Western Conference that already has “superteams” like the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, in addition to the fact that LeBron James is now in the West as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, is a duo of Aldridge and DeRozan enough to keep the Spurs relevant in this new Western Conference landscape?

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