It’s July 9th, and not every NBA free agent or trade scenario is spoken for quite yet. As such, we want to believe there is some weight to the various rumours floating around out there, even as they spin further and further away from provable truth, just so we can say a deal is now done. That’s my feeling whenever I hear of a link between the Raptors and Kawhi Leonard.
According to no less than the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps — a last name that translates to Good Time, much to my chagrin — Toronto has been working overtime to “generate buzz” in the Kawhi trade market which, to be honest, doesn’t really sound like a thing.
Here’s the quote:
The Toronto Raptors also generated buzz as a potential destination for Leonard. With LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, perhaps Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is willing to swing for the fences and move DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry in such a deal.
There are a few problems with this.
First, according to a different set of reports, Kawhi is only interested in coming to one Eastern Conference team: the Philadelphia 76ers. This sentiment feels true, and has been breathlessly reported and aggregated by the entire Boston sports media apparatus (so you know they’re big mad about it). At the very least, it suggests that the Toronto rumours are ill-defined and not super serious.
Here are the comments from ESPN’s Chris Haynes (again!):
“I want to add clarity to that,” Haynes said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “Los Angeles are his preferred destinations. He will consider Philly. That’s the only Eastern Conference team he would consider if they’re able to put a package together.”
As that quote implies, the two teams with the most to offer Leonard are the Lakers in the west, and the Sixers in the East. Both squads are well positioned to compete, and have surplus assets to spend to secure Leonard. This brings us to the second problem for Toronto.
The Raptors just don’t have the trade juice to make this deal happen. If you’re the Spurs, you don’t want Kyle Lowry on the back end of his prime, on a big contract. I mean, he’s still good, but San Antonio is so obviously in the process of sliding into being bad that having Lowry around makes no sense for them. And I’m comfortable that the idea of reuniting Rudy Gay with DeMar DeRozan is also not a workable proposition for R.C. Buford, Gregg Popovich, or the Spurs. Aside from those two, Toronto just doesn’t have the draft assets to make a good deal work. It’s true, the Raps do have some nice young players (OG Anunoby at the top of the list), but I’m not sure they could top, say, a Markelle Fultz-led package from Philly.
And now, wrapping back around to the initial problem by way of a third important issue: It does not sound like Kawhi wants to come to Toronto. This isn’t the worst thing (it happens all the time!), but if the Raptors are about the mortgage their future, it would be nice to know they at least had a shot to re-sign Leonard after he plays out the 2018-19 season.
There’s an argument to be made that the Raptors will 100 percent be terrible by the end of the 2019-20 season, once everyone — Lowry, DeRozan (assuming he opts out), Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, etc. — comes off the books. In this line of thinking, the Raptors don’t really have many kicks at the can left with this core, so you may as well go all in now with Leonard and take the best possible shot at the Finals next year. I get that, but I don’t see it happening.
In the final assessment, I ask: Kawhi do we do this to ourselves?