The Toronto Raptors are not idiots contrary to popular belief. Looking at it right off the bat, the decision to trade for San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard seems moronic. Why make a move for a guy who is going to leave in free agency at the end of the season? For the Raptors there are a couple of motivating factors.
The Team they had Wasn’t Winning
Toronto had stars- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan- but still won nothing. LeBron James continually dominated them every time the North ended up in the playoffs.
Even though LeBron has moved West for the foreseeable future, Toronto’s roster seemed incapable of winning in the postseason. They got swept by a crappy Cavs team in the 2018 playoffs despite being the number 1 seed in the East.
In addition to how ugly they’ve looked in the playoffs over the last few years, the Celtics and Sixers are going to continue to get better with their young stars evolving every year. Toronto on the other hand, is a veteran team that didn’t really have much potential. We knew what they were. It isn’t like DeMar DeRozan will suddenly become a Harden like 3-point shooter, or Kawhi-like defender going into his tenth season. It was time for a shakeup and general manager Masai Ujiri knew that.
Leonard is a Better Player than DeRozan
It is safe to say the Kawhi Leonard is a better player than DeRozan. He is a better defender, better 3-point shooter, and more of a team player. When I say that I am talking about how DeRozan is more of an isolation player. It will be easier for rookie head coach Nick Nurse to implement his offensive system with Leonard on the roster instead of DeRozan.
Leonard being the better player also improves their team right now. Toronto has a better chance to get to the NBA Finals with a former Finals MVP leading the charge rather than a player who has yet to perform in the postseason.
There is a Chance Leonard Stays
As unlikely as it seems, Leonard could stay in Toronto past this season. If he does, GM Ujiri will be viewed as a genius. Ujiri will need to do some convincing, but Leonard is a top-5 NBA player and would be a great building block to build Toronto’s franchise around.
The Move Sets Toronto Up for a Rebuild
Even if Leonard doesn’t stay, which seems likely, it will allow the Raptors to start a reboot. Like I said and you’ve seen, Toronto hasn’t been able to win in the playoffs with the team they had. Making the trade with San Antonio rids Toronto of DeRozan’s large contract, while keeping most of their assets.
With the Celtics and Sixers on the rise, their best chance to beat them is with Kawhi. If he leaves? time to move on and start from scratch.
It is a gamble for the Raptors to bet on Kawhi after seeing all this drama unfold, but it is worth it. Toronto wasn’t going anywhere and the deal is going to push the franchise in one direction or the other, depending on whether Leonard stays or goes.