Through nearly three weeks of NBA free agency and almost a month of trades, the Eastern Conference had remained eerily quiet. The Wizards had arguably been the most aggressive team in the East, as all the biggest moves had occurred in the West and, most notably, LeBron James changed coasts.
That all changed on Wednesday as the Toronto Raptors pulled off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs to land Kawhi Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year. The full deal includes All-NBA guard DeMar DeRozan going to San Antonio along with big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick. The Raptors also get guard Danny Green, according to ESPN.
Here are some takeaways from the trade...
This is good, potentially great news for the Wizards
The worst-case scenario for the Wizards and most of the East would have been if Leonard got dealt to either the Sixers or Celtics, as the potential would have been there for a dominant team. The Sixers, in particular, could have conceivably traded for Leonard without giving up much in the way of pieces that can help them now. They would have teamed Leonard with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and would probably be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. Instead, the Sixers struck out and now face the prospect of taking a pretty big L on this offseason, given all the guys they were tied to going into it.
Leonard and the Raptors will be good and they may even be better than they were last season. Though the Raptors won 59 games in the regular season, they disappointed in the playoffs. Leonard could change that, but he won't have the help to make them an unstoppable force. Kyle Lowry is good, but he's an aging player and they don't have a third star, at least not yet. They have a lot of recent first round picks that could, in theory, make the leap.
This deal is good for the Wizards and could become great if Leonard leaves in free agency next summer. If he does, the Raptors will be in deep trouble.
What will the Lakers do?
When James signed with the Lakers, most assumed they would then add at least one star to run with him. But now that Leonard is going to Toronto, it's very possible they don't add one at all. James might actually have to play with Lonzo Ball in addition to Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. Sure, they can sign Leonard next summer or find another star then, but this is shaping up as of now to be a lost year for James.
As consistitued, they aren't winning anything of substance. It's just so surprising James would be cool with this level of talent around him considering what he could have done this season if he signed with Philly or some other team.
People are looking at the wrong contract
Much of the instant reaction to the Leonard trade was praise for the Raptors in ridding themselves of DeRozan's deal. That's a headscratcher. DeRozan is set to make over $27 million in the next three years, the third being a player option, but he's an All-NBA player who turns 29 next month. In the context of NBA contracts, that isn't too bad.
Lowry's contract, on the other hand, is borderline awful. He's 32 with his numbers heading in the wrong direction and he's due to make $31 million next season and $33.3 million the year after. It's not like the Raptors freed themselves of their worst deal.
Masai is making moves
This is a risk for the Raptors and you have to respect it. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, had seen enough of the DeRozan-Lowry duo falling short in the playoffs. He fired head coach Dwane Casey and pulled off a trade for Leonard, who at his best is one of the premier players in the NBA.
There is considerable risk in this move with Leonard having missed 73 games last season with a quadriceps injury and given the fact he can opt to test free agency next summer. If he really does want to join the Lakers, he could leave the Raptors empty-handed.
But it's a risk that is probably worth taking. Everyone assumed the same future for Paul George and he ended up staying in Oklahoma City. It's not a guarantee Leonard leaves and now the Raptors have a year to convince him to stay. Ujiri should get praise for this deal because it's bold and he did one of the hardest things a GM can do in finding a top-5 talent for his team.
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