Friday, May 24, 2024

Kawhi In The 6 : Wild Times In The NBA

I woke up at 7 am, alarm screeching, as I grabbed my phone to quickly hit the snooze button. As I did, something peculiar caught my eye. It read “221 unread messages.” I thought to myself, “what could these idiots be talking about.”

I quickly swiped down to check my notifications and I saw it. “Kawhi Leonard traded to the Raptors.” I immediately jumped out of bed and check my messages to read my friends wildin’ out about the trade.

NBA fans have been speculating for weeks on the situation San Antonio and finally, it’s happened. Superstar small forward Kawhi Leonard has been traded to the Toronto Raptors. I know, it’s wild.


The Trade

Spurs fans are sad, and rightfully so. Losing a player of Kawhi Leonard’s caliber always hurts, but they’re far from finished. The Spurs gave up Leonard and two-way stud Danny Green for star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a 2019 1st round pick.

Everyone is so quick to write off the Raptors claiming they have already lost the trade. But let me ask you, who is the last big name that has signed with the Raptors?

Keep thinking, I’ll wait.

The Raptors are the epitome of a small market team. Teams like Sacramento, Memphis, Oklahoma City have a tough time signing big name free agents because they are located in small markets. The Raptors aren’t just in a small market, they’re in a whole other country.

Theoretically, this means they have the biggest market of any team, but the reality is nobody ever wants to play in Canada. The Raptors have struggled to sign free agents for years.

The question remains, how does this trade affect both teams? Let’s take a look, shall we?


What This Means For The Raptors

So we’ve established the Raptors have had a tough time with free agents, but they have a bigger issue. They struggle mightily in the playoffs.

After getting to the playoffs for 5 straight seasons, the Raptors have been eliminated in the 1st or 2nd round 4 of those 5 times (the other time they lost in the 3rd round). This includes last season where the Raptors set a franchise record 59 wins before getting swept for an early 2nd round exit.

The Raptors have become the epitome of choking. Some people blame it on former coach Dwane Casey, others put it on Lowry & DeRozan’s struggles in the playoffs. Something clearly needed to change in Toronto.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, there aren’t many big name free agents lining up to play in Toronto. In fact, there aren’t any.

The Raptors are constantly forced to overpay on mid-tier free agents like DeMarre Carroll and Landry Fields in hopes they develop into stars, which almost never comes to fruition. The Raptors have figured out how to get around that, however. They have acquired elite talent exclusively through the draft and/or trades.

The Raptors have been quite successful in the draft. From Chris Bosh to DeMar DeRozan all the way to Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors have not only drafted well but have been equally strong in developing players. Just last year the Raptors drafted OG Anunoby, who was a crucial 3&D wing for them all year.

Most people forget, but Kyle Lowry came to Toronto via trade. Lowry was a solid, but unspectacular guard at the time he was traded for, but since then has developed beautifully in Toronto. He has supplanted himself as one of the best point guards in the league.

The Raptors have made due knowing they will receive close to no help from free agency. And with Kawhi Leonard, they have shown it once again.

Everyone simply assumes Kawhi will leave after one year. Let’s take a moment and think about how amazing a trade the Raptors just pulled off. The Raptors just acquired a top 3 player in Kawhi and a starting caliber SG in Danny Green for a top 20 player in DeRozan, a weak role player in Jakob Poeltl, and a 1st round pick.

Keep in mind about 2 weeks ago, for the Lakers to acquire Kawhi, the asking price was Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Josh Hart, and multiple first-round picks. Now, look at what the Raptors have given up and tell me they gave up a lot.

1st round picks are valuable, but the 2019 pick is one that is likely going to be slotted in the mid to high 20s. DeMar DeRozan has been fabulous in the regular season but has struggled in the playoffs, to say the least. Upgrading him for a player that has elevated his game in the playoffs seems like a wise move. Jakob Poeltl was a solid defensive presence, but he’s far from anyone Raptor fans are crying over losing.

The Raptors have a whole new feel now, especially on the defensive side. A starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas will look to dominate the east.

One of the most important things is how Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard will coexist. To me, it’s easy. Lowry has been playing 2nd fiddle to DeRozan for years. While Lowry is a terrific scorer all by himself, he is also an excellent playmaker, hitting teammates when they’re open and setting up the offense. He is also a fantastic three-point shooter, which will space out the floor for Kawhi.

The Raptors will be getting another mid-range maestro. Kawhi has become the best mid-range shooter in the NBA, to complement all his other skills. Kawhi should blossom in Toronto. He will once again be the alpha dog on a team where he will have the opportunity to excel. The Raptors are talented, but Kawhi will still be able to get the same touches he did in SA.

I really love bringing in Danny Green. Green has faded a bit the last few years, but he is still one of the better 3&D players. As it stands, Green is still a masterful defender. A change of scenery should help his offensive production, he should receive more touches which could help bring his scoring back up.

The defensive presence on this team will be scary. Lowry and Green are fantastic defenders at their position. Kawhi is the best perimeter defender in the league. Ibaka has declined from elite status but is still a very good defender. It was just a few years ago he was averaging 3.0 BPG, perhaps he can return to the same level. Valanciunas has struggled on the defensive side for years, but last year he took a step in the right direction by playing at least functional defense.

Toronto also has very solid depth. Up-and-coming players OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet headline a bench that played very well last season. Along with them, the Raptors possess an assortment of young talent who are ready to come in and showcase their talent.

The Raptors are in fantastic position. While they aren’t the outright favorites to make the Finals from the East, they are definitely up there with the Celtics and 76ers as the best from the East.


What This Means For The Spurs

The Spurs have been notorious for being old and experienced. The last few years GOAT coach Gregg Popovich has injected youth into this San Antonio Spurs team.

‘Pop’ has instilled a culture of sacrifice, humbleness, and unselfishness into this pristine organization. For all the players who came through this SA program, nobody represented that better than Kawhi Leonard. For whatever reason (I won’t get into it), Kawhi wanted out of San Antonio. Now he finally gets his wish.

Everyone knows about Pop’s highly touted system. He has increased the productivity of so many role players who would be average if they weren’t on the Spurs. Players such as Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Corey Joseph come to mind.

Pop has filled his roster with unselfish, high IQ players who understand how to play the game properly. Pop’s system is beautiful to watch because of the great passing, but it works because of the off-ball movement.

As I stated before, the Spurs did not receive a lot for Kawhi. What they did receive is a star in DeMar DeRozan, who is one of the best shooting guards in the league. While the 1st round pick they received is almost assuredly going to be a late first rounder, Pop has done a fantastic job developing late round picks into stars. Jakob Poeltl is a strong defensive presence with great size. But at this stage in his career, he is just that, but Pop is one of the best in player development, Poeltl should develop nicely.

DeRozan is a perfect fit in San Antonio with Pop. Much like Kawhi, DeRozan is a king of the mid-range. He uses his size and handles to create space in the mid-range. Like Kawhi, DeRozan has fantastic post up ability, especially from the high post where he has pristine ability as a driver as well as his trusty mid-range stroke. DeRozan is an elite athlete, he has tantalizing speed in addition to his unreal vertical.

When skillsets and physical profiles are compared, DeRozan almost looks like the same player, of course, Kawhi is a much better defender. DeRozan is no slouch, however, as he is a great defender in his own right.

Where DeRozan beats out Kawhi is with his playmaking. DeRozan just had a career-high 5.2 APG. While Kawhi has made strides to become a much better playmaker, he has never achieved higher than a 3.5 APG mark.

The passing of DeRozan may be beneficial to star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. DeRozan and Aldridge in the pick and roll/pop game will be deadly with DeRozan’s ability as a scorer and passer.

Pau Gasol has been one of the best big men in history, but at 38 years old his career is coming to an end. Pop will be looking to develop Jakob Poeltl into the starting center of the future. As it stands right now, Poeltl is nothing more than a strong defender, but as we all know, Pop can bring the best out of any player.

San Antonio has some uncertainty in their starting lineup. It seems the only starting spots that are settled are PG Dejounte Murray, SG DeMar DeRozan, and PF LaMarcus Aldridge with questions surrounding who will start at small forward and at center.

The Spurs have plenty of options, however. At small forward, Rudy Gay has been one of the most underrated players in the past decade. He has been 1 of 6 players who have scored 17.0+ PPG in 10 straight seasons. He struggled last season, but now he is finally healthy off an achilles injury so perhaps he can make the impact he was brought in to make.

The Spurs have a plethora of young talent including 1st round pick Lonnie Walker, summer league standout Derrick White, underrated rookie Chimezie Metu. Pop will look to continue to develop all these guys into stars.

As always, the Spurs still have vets mixed in the team. Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills will look to make a strong impact off the bench as they have in past years.

The Spurs have plenty of quality options for their lineup. While DeRozan is obviously a downgrade from Kawhi, Pop always gets the most out of his players. Who knows, maybe he’ll finally get DeRozan to develop that three-point shot he’s been lacking. DeRozan has been extremely loyal and hardworking, a true San Antonio player.

While San Antonio did not get as much as they could for Kawhi, they were going to lose him in free agency next year and this trade assures they get several pieces to work with.

Who Won The Trade?

After any trade, the first thing fans love to do is determine who won the trade. The reality is, nobody knows. There’s no actual way to determine who won/lost the trade when it happens, it generally takes a few years to determine that.

Take the last offseason for example. Kyrie Irving was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Isiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a 1st round pick (no. 8 overall). The Celtics looked like they lost their minds. They gave up a valuable first round pick, a player who was just as good as Kyrie (Thomas), and one of their best role players (Crowder) for Kyrie Irving.

Now a year later and we saw what happened. Isiah Thomas never got healthy and played painfully horrible after missing a good chunk of the season before getting traded to the Lakers for nominal pieces. Jae Crowder faltered and struggled mightily with his shot before being traded to the Jazz. It seemed the only thing the Cavs managed to do in that trade is drive LeBron James out of town.

While it looked like the Cavs easily won that trade, after a year we see who the winners really are.

The Spurs were smart to ship off Kawhi Leonard. They knew if they didn’t trade him away they would have lost him in free agency next year.

Although the Spurs will move on without Kawhi, it would be a mistake to write off Pop so easily. The Spurs are still loaded with talent and with Pop at the helm, the sky’s the limit.

It’s true, the Raptors are taking a huge risk trading for Kawhi with only one year left on his contract. Kawhi has serious desires to play in LA, and most fans have already foreseen that he will leave Toronto after a year. The reality is, there’s a good chance he stays.

Before this whole dilemma, Kawhi was considered the most loyal player in the NBA. The Toronto Raptors are considered one of the most homely organizations. The players all care for each other and treat each other like family. While in the past big-name players have left the organization, nowadays the players who are on the Raptors tend to stay.

The Raptors are a legitimate threat in the East, and while I’m not saying it’s a guarantee they will make it to The Finals, there’s a good chance they do. Everyone has Kawhi already gone next year, but then again, they thought Paul George would leave after year too.

Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors will be one of the more interesting cases to watch this season, as his decision to stay or leave will go further than what happens on the court.

As it stands now, both these teams look to have benefited from this trade. The Spurs got rid of a disgruntled player and received an elite shooting guard in return. While the Raptors got one of the best players in the NBA (in his prime), and will be looking for playoff success which has eluded them for so long.

Maybe Drake and Kawhi will become best friends. Now that would be something to write about.

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