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The saga has finally reached its long-awaited conclusion as Kawhi Leonard is heading for the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan. The trade also involved Danny Green and the young center Jakob Poeltl.
Who is the winner here? Most might assume that the Raptors emerge as the clear winners of this blockbuster trade, as Kawhi Leonard is considered as a far superior player than DeMar DeRozan.
However, there are other factors at play.
The San Antonio Spurs will, most likely, hang onto DeRozan longer than the Raptors will get to keep Leonard. On the other hand, the Raptors took on Leonard’s contract which has one year left on it, after which he will most likely become a free agent and look for ways to sign with the Lakers. The Riverside County native has expressed his desire to return home to LA and play alongside Lebron James. Kawhi made it clear that if the Lakers didn’t snag him this summer, he would return to LA when his one year contract is over after the 2018-2019 season.
The Raptors finished first in the East last year, winning 59 games, making a healthy run in the playoffs before they were halted by the Lebron James-led Cavaliers. With the addition of Leonard, who posted 25.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, and 3.5 apg in the 2016-2017 season, the Raptors are now expected to only go further in the Eastern Conference playoffs, especially when you consider that Lebron James is no longer in the East to stop them. This isn’t a surprise to anyone, as Lebron has been tormenting the Raptors in the Eastern Conference playoffs for over a decade. Now that Lebron is gone and Kawhi has arrived, the Raptors are looking for a fresh start under newly promoted head coach Nick Nurse who is expected to steer the team in the right direction and finally get over the hump and make the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Spurs are in a different situation. After realizing that the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker era was coming to an end, the organization hoped to build around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in order to continue winning championships. Even with Leonard gone, the Spurs are still looking solid, with the hopes that the Aldridge-DeRozan duo would end up functioning great. Both are all-star caliber players. However, their talents will not be enough to compete with the Warriors or the Rockets.
On the other hand, the addition of DeRozan may help change the play style of the Spurs, who have become defensive-minded with Leonard, and their offense fell to one of the worst in the league at 27th place with 102.4 points per game. DeRozan, who averaged 23.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, and 5.2 apg last season, will bring life to the Spurs offense with his scoring mentality, as he brings an arsenal of offensive scoring abilities to the Spurs which they have probably never had before at the guard position.
Regardless of obvious scenarios, the world apparently still believes in Greg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard. The reverence of Popovich's coaching abilities has put San Antonio odds of winning the NBA title at +12500. On the other end, the odds say that Leonard joining the Raptors greatly improves the Raptors chance to rise above the East and win the NBA Finals. The odds of the Raptors winning the NBA title are at +2650.
The odds get better for the Raptors when considering the Eastern Conference title. However, the young talent of the Celtics and Sixers is not being overlooked, as the Raptors have odds of +550 to win the Eastern Conference title. For the Spurs, the road is much more robust than the Raptors, as the Spurs must defeat the Warriors or the Rockets. The Spurs have odds of +6000 to win the Western Conference title.
In the end, the trade was beneficial for both teams. Kawhi was clearly unhappy with the Spurs, and the unhealthy relationship was dragging down both parties. With the Raptors, Leonard could flex his scoring abilities rather than being stuck in the Spurs’ “system”.
For DeRozan, it’s the opposite. DeRozan needs to be disciplined by Popovich and his "system" in order to become a better defensive player and a better leader. Maybe then, DeRozan could become a legend rather than a star.
Now that the "Kawhi" saga has been concluded, at least for now, with probably neither party involved being too happy with the outcome, all we can conclude is that the sour feelings will eventually fade away and everyone will learn to deal with the reality and move on.