A trade consisting of two All-Stars is a rarity around the NBA world. It happened last offseason when the Cleveland Cavaliers sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas.
Now, for the second time in as many years, we’ve seen a trade of that ilk. On Wednesday morning, the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs worked our a four-player trade headlined by Kawhi Leonard heading to Canada and DeMar DeRozan making his way to Texas.
This trade changes the entire dynamic of the NBA. Leonard, should he actually suit up in Toronto, changes the balance of the Eastern Conference now that LeBron James is in Southern California.
Meanwhile, multiple teams out west were weakened by not being able to land Leonard. All the while, the Los Angeles Lakers now seem to have a good chance to land him in free agency next summer. These are among the winners and losers from Wednesday’s blockbuster trade.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
Let’s get this out of the way rather quickly. Unlike Paul George in Oklahoma City, it’s highly unlikely that Leonard will decide to stay in Toronto long term. As linked above, he might even sit out the entire 2018-19 season. That’s some absurd stuff.
So instead of yielding the ridiculous bounty that San Antonio was demanding in a trade for Leonard, the Lakers have an opportunity to land him for “free” next summer. And while Leonard might push back against the idea of teaming up with LeBron James in Los Angeles, it’s seemingly a match made in heaven. Certainly, Los Angeles isn’t a top-end title contender this season. But the team has noted that its moves this offseason were with next summer in mind. Leonard is the gold standard in that regard.
Loser: Toronto Raptors
Moving on from a franchise cornerstone in DeRozan who has three more years left on his contact for a likely rental made no sense at all. Should Leonard depart in free agency, this will go down as one of the worst trades in modern NBA history, similar to the then New Jersey Nets sending the farm to the Boston Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett years back.
Not only did Toronto give up three more years of a homegrown All-Star, it also moved a former top-10 pick in 22-year-old center Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round pick. That’s the price Toronto was willing to pay for an minimal chance of winning the title this coming season. And in reality, it could send the organization back into irrelevance down the road.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
Even without making a move, the two-time defending champs continue to win. For most of the offseason, Kawhi Leonard was linked to the Los Angeles Lakers. He wanted to play there. The team wanted to land him. And once LeBron James signed with the Lakers, it seemed to make all the sense in the world.
Sure the Lakers can still sign Leonard in free agency next summer. But the trade of Leonard to Toronto weakens the Western Conference in a big way. With Leonard in the mix, San Antonio was a legit threat to take out the Warriors. Without him, the team is a mid-tier playoff contender. With Leonard in the mix, the Lakers would be seen as a major threat. Without him, LeBron will likely have to wait another year to compete with Golden State out west.
Loser: San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio was so inclined to trade Leonard back east that it likely turned down much more lucrative offers for Leonard from Western Conference teams. This has been the MO of the organization throughout the entire drama. It would rather receive less in return than give in to Leonard. To say that this is ridiculous would be an understatement.
Instead of picking up young stars to build with moving forward, the Spurs added a 28-year-old DeRozan. Certainly, this was the Spurs’ way of somehow remaining relevant out west. But in reality, it didn’t move the needle at all. And it didn’t give San Antonio a ton of future assets in the process.
Winner: Boston Celtics
Boston bowed out of the Leonard sweepstakes rather early in the process. It simply didn’t want to give up Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown. And for good reason. Both are budding stars. At that point, the only hope was that Leonard wouldn’t land in Philadelphia. He didn’t.
Even with DeRozan suiting up for the Raptors, these Celtics have to be seen as odds-on favorites back east. They took the then LeBron-led Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. If Philly had landed Leonard, it would have changed up the entire dynamics back east. Alas, that did not happen.
Loser: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers were pretty much a dark horse in the Leonard sweepstakes. They didn’t have the on-court talent to give up to San Antonio, but tried like heck to land the All-Star forward. Now that Leonard is in Toronto, the Clippers are back to irrelevance out west.
More so than that, Los Angeles stands no real chance to land Leonard in free agency. Its only real hope was trading for the star and convincing him to remain there long term, somewhat similar to Paul George and Oklahoma City.