What it may take for Raptors to land Kawhi Leonard

Yahoo Canada Sports
The Raptors are rumoured to be interested in making quite the splash with a big off-season trade.
The Raptors are rumoured to be interested in making quite the splash with a big off-season trade.

There’s nothing like a big off-season trade rumour to whip a team’s fanbase into a frenzy.

The prognosticators at OddsShark did just that earlier this week, creating a buzz north of the border with fresh odds that apparently put the Raptors at the front of the line to acquire Kawhi Leonard. We already knew team president Masai Ujiri was exploring all options after another disappointing playoff finish, but Kawhi? In Toronto?

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It doesn’t exactly appear to be a match made in heaven, as Toronto is the furthest thing from Los Angeles, but the betting folk at OddsShark aren’t in the business of losing money. And when the head oddsmaker at MyBookie.com doubles down on this “distinct possibility,” you have to wonder, “what would it take for the Raptors to land one of the top-five players in the NBA?”

You’d have to start with a decent understanding of what the Spurs expect in return for their superstar, and if the rumours surrounding their negotiations with the Lakers are any indication, it’s a lot! Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, coupled with two first-round picks and two swapped picks is a hefty price to pay for one player, even if he’s as good as Kawhi.

We’re not exactly sold on Toronto’s willingness to match that kind of package (or come anywhere close), but we’ll use this as a jumping-off point. Unfortunately, Toronto doesn’t have two young studs who are as promising as Ingram and Kuzma, so we’re going to assume San Antonio would be willing to settle for one of the Raptors’ star players in order to facilitate this trade. If so, here’s what a potential deal could look like. 

A quick look at a potential trade between the Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs.
A quick look at a potential trade between the Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs.

The Raptors are fairly short on starting-calibre youngsters, but they do have one. OG Anunoby is currently playing well the Summer Leagues, averaging 15.3 points with six rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He established himself in his rookie season as a strong defender with an improved scoring touch, two features that work well in Gregg Popovich’s system. DeMar DeRozan, while far from a young buck, is an elite scorer who plays an old-school game that relies heavily on mid-range jumpers and getting to the rim — which also fits very well in San Antonio’s system. The Raptors would have to throw a couple of first-round picks into the package, and maybe even swap a few more picks, if we’re going by what the Spurs reportedly sought from the Lakers.

The Raptors, of course, would be getting Kawhi, but in order to make the salaries work we’ve thrown Marco Belinelli into the fold. The Raptors successfully transitioned their offence to feature more 3-point shooting in 2017-18, so Belinelli could fit in fairly well joining C.J. Miles as a gunner off the bench. When it comes to salaries and positions, this trade — which may be the best package Toronto could muster — seems to work. But there’s a reason why most Raptors fans were incredulous when they heard about Leonard’s potential to land in Toronto. In fact, there are a few:

  • While DeRozan has been a disappointment in many recent playoff runs, he remains the leader of this team and one of the greatest Raptor in franchise history. It’s not easy to find players who are happy to play in Toronto, yet DeRozan has shown his commitment to this team and this city since breaking into the league nine years ago. Kawhi, on the other hand, will be one-and-done after the 2018-19 season. I’m not saying the Raptors will never be willing to move DeRozan, but you’d have to think Ujiri would covet a more long-term solution (or a collection of draft picks to hasten a rebuild) as opposed to a one-year cup of coffee with Leonard.

  • As previously stated, Anunoby is the only youngster on Toronto’s current roster with great potential (apologies to Fred VanVleet fans, but he’s still a backup PG, whereas Anunoby was a starter for much of his rookie season). This trade would see the Raptors trading away their star player, their best prospect, and a couple of first rounders for a superstar and a 3-point specialist — both of which are far from long-term investments.

  • The Raptors already punted one recent draft, trading picks in 2018 in order to ship DeMarre Carroll to Brooklyn and remove his contract from the books. The Raps would likely have to part with at least one more first-round pick in order to get Kawhi and, again, Leonard is not likely to remain in Toronto for very long. If the Raptors were to trade DeRozan for Leonard and the latter bolts after one season, that would certainly hasten Toronto’s rebuild, but it’s tough to start from scratch when you have no first-round picks or big-name stars to deal for them.

There’s still plenty of room for Ujiri and the Raptors to get creative, but I struggle to find a potential package for Kawhi that doesn’t quickly send the Raptors into a full-on rebuild without first-round picks for the foreseeable future. I understand there’s a window for a few teams in the Eastern Conference — including the Raptors — to reach the Finals now that LeBron has departed to the West, but I’m not sure heavily mortgaging your future for a one-year window with Leonard is enough to guarantee a date with the Golden State Warriors for the NBA championship.

That is, unless San Antonio drastically reduces its asking price. When Indiana was rumoured to be shopping Paul George, sources had reportedly informed Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders that the Pacers were “absolutely not looking at moving [George], unless the deal returned Kevin Durant.” The Pacers eventually moved George to Oklahoma City, settling for a package that included four-year veteran Victor Oladipo and a young, promising prospect in Domantas Sabonis. George had two years left on his contract at the time, but he was expected to opt out after the 2017-18 season, as is Leonard when the 2018-19 season is complete. A DeRozan-Anunoby package for Kahwi would be quite similar, but I’m fairly certain the Spurs could find a better package with at least one of the other teams that are rumoured to be interested in Leonard’s services. 

The odds may be in Toronto’s favour, but the smart bet doesn’t appear to be on the Raptors.

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