Kawhi Leonard trade rumors have come to a halt. The pressure’s off for any team to swoop in with a real offer to blow the Spurs’ minds, as all of the top free agents have already found their new homes. No team’s signing is contingent on Kawhi Leonard’s arrival like many thought LeBron James’ might have been, which provides the perfect space for a dark horse to entire the arena.
The Toronto Raptors should be that dark horse with the Eastern Conference suddenly wide open.
There’s no reporting that suggests a deal is imminent or in the works — though ESPN’s Zach Lowe listed Toronto as a mystery team and betting money is coming in heavily on the Raptors — but if offers from the Lakers and Sixers cool off, this could be the best endpoint for the Raptors, Spurs, and Leonard.
What could a Raptors trade for Kawhi Leonard look like?
There are several options for how this deal could work depending on who Toronto is willing to trade and which of its stars San Antonio sees as its best fit. The menu would look something like this for the Spurs:
Star (pick one)
Asset (pick one, two if you’re lucky, three if you’re very lucky)
Picks (one or two with protections dependent on asset selection)
- 2019 first-rounder
- 2019 second-rounder
- 2020 first-rounder
- 2020 second-rounder
- 2021 first-rounder
- 2021 second-rounder
(Reminder: Teams can’t trade first-rounders in consecutive years unless one is a pick swap.)
Which of these deals makes the most sense for both sides?
While Lowry is the better of the two stars, he’s four years older and playing out the end of his prime years. That makes DeRozan the more likely centerpiece for a Leonard trade, along with a replacement forward in Anunoby, a lesser-coveted asset in Wright, and a protected pick. It could look something like this:
Kawhi Leonard + Danny Green OR Patty Mills —> DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, 2019 protected first-round pick
Why should the Raptors be quick to make this deal?
James is gone to the Western Conference, and a run to the Finals is in play. Toronto had the second-best record in the league last season, the best in the East, and the third-best net rating behind the Warriors and Rockets without a no-brainer top-20 player in the league. The team was defined by its elite bench, but ruined because of its lack of firepower.
This move solves that. Leonard is a huge upgrade above DeRozan if he’s healthy, and any trade shouldn’t startle the continuity of the team’s bench too much. The Raptors are deep, and a lack of commitment from Leonard to sign past the one year left on his deal shouldn’t scare them off. A franchise like Toronto, which hasn’t historically lured free agents, needs to take a chance when a top-five player is on the market.
A run to the Finals may justify the firing of former head coach Dwane Casey and stop the laughter of the team’s annual sweep by James.
Why should the Spurs make this deal?
The Spurs don’t have the culture to tank and likely won’t start now with Gregg Popovich and LaMarcus Aldridge under contract. One ideal situation for the team and its fans is to land a star-quality talent and collect pieces to develop. Landing DeRozan, Wright, Anunoby, and another protected pick provides them a future and a now.
Of course, San Antonio should only make this trade if it must. There could be better offers in play unless teams are hesitant to deal key players. Brandon Ingram is the prize if the Lakers are willing to trade a lanky forward with the potential to lead the league in scoring one day. Markelle Fultz from the Sixers should be a secondary option.
But if both sides hold on to their brightest youths, as they reportedly have to date, a deal with Toronto looks like the next-best route to take.
Everybody wins, and the Raptors would finally make a move to bring themselves out of playoff mediocrity.