The Toronto Raptors took a big risk by swinging a deal with the San Antonio Spurs for All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard this past offseason. While Leonard made it known he wanted out of San Antonio, the Raptors traded All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, among other pieces, to acquire him. In turn, this meant they were giving up one of their best players with a chance to be left mostly empty-handed after the 2018-19 NBA season.
Leonard has a player option on his current contract for the 2019-20 season (per Spotrac), so he can opt out and either sign a new deal with the Raptors or test the free agent market. As we’re now nearing the midway point of the season, it’s time to take a look back at the trade and evaluate the outlook for both teams.
First, here’s a breakdown of what each team received in the deal, courtesy of NBA.com:
- Raptors receive: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green
- Spurs receive: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, 2019 first-round pick (protected)
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski detailed shortly after the deal that the first-round pick is protected 1-20, so anything outside of the top-20 would go to San Antonio. If the Raptors pick lands inside that range, it would become two second-round picks the following year.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the deal and break down who the early winner of the trade is, even with a whole lot of basketball still to be played this season.
Argument for Raptors Winning Kawhi Leonard Trade
There’s an easy argument to be made that the Raptors are running away with Leonard deal at this point. When you look at the 27-year-old’s numbers, it’s hard to say that he hasn’t exceeded expectations. Through the 30 games he’s played, Leonard is averaging career-highs in points (27.3) and rebounds (8.2) while shooting an impressive 49.7 percent from the field.
The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has lived up to the defensive hype as well, consistently locking down opponents and averaging 1.6 steals per game. Although he’s been asked to shoulder a larger offensive load due to various injuries to the Raptors roster, Leonard has thrived with his new team.
Even more important than personal numbers is the fact that the Raptors hold a 28-11 record to this point in the season, just a half-game back of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ve done this with Leonard, point guard Kyle Lowry and center Jonas Valaciunas all missing extended periods due to injury/rest.
Argument Spurs Ahead With DeMar DeRozan Acquisition
While all of the numbers from Leonard and the Raptors outlook are impressive, what the Spurs have done to this point deserves a major tip of the cap as well. Not only do they hold a 21-17 record, but they’ve gotten there after suffering preseason injuries to multiple players, including starting point guard Dejounte Murray.
Along with Murray almost certainly out for the year with a torn ACL, rookie guard Lonnie Walker suffered a meniscus tear back in October and is just getting back to the court in January. Yet, through all the injuries and unfortunate twists and turns, the Spurs are still in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, sitting 4.5 games back of first place.
And then there’s the aspect of what the Spurs received after trading their best player. You could argue that DeRozan has been one of the more underrated players in the NBA this season. He’s continued to produce as a high-volume scorer, averaging 22.9 points per game, but has stepped up and averaged career-bests in assists and rebounds through 38 games.
DeRozan has dished out 6.3 assists while pulling down 5.9 rebounds per game and has shot 47.7 percent from the field. The 29-year-old has taken on whatever role head coach Gregg Popovich has asked. Even beyond that, the Spurs have DeRozan under contract through next season, and he has a player option for the 2020-21 season. This means they’ve picked up a decent amount of stability from the deal.
Although Leonard has received high praise this season, for a good reason, DeRozan and the Spurs both have to be happy with the direction things are heading.
Who’s Winning the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan Trade?
I’d say it’s too early to decide, but that’s a bit obvious. At this point, the slight edge would likely go to the Raptors, but it’s not by the massive margin that many believe. Toronto would become the overall winners if they either won the NBA title this season or if Leonard re-signs during the offseason.
On the opposite side, if he leaves town and signs elsewhere in free agency, the Spurs win the deal by a decent margin, especially if they keep DeRozan beyond next year. San Antonio has a real chance to continue trending upward, especially if they add a piece or two at the trade deadline. Also, when Murray returns to the mix (whenever that winds up being), the Spurs have a nice trio to build around.
So, the verdict gives the current edge to Toronto with the door remaining wide open on San Antonio’s chances of walking away as the ultimate winner.