A new air mass arrived in Toronto on Tuesday and with the more pleasant temperatures came a cold wind of change for the Raptors. The always ruthless Masai Ujiri has shipped the face of his franchise to San Antonio.
Thanks to ESPN’s WOJ, we now know All-Star DeMar DeRozan, promising young center Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected draft pick has been traded for two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and “3-and-D” veteran wing Danny Green.
Maybe everyone in Toronto should have seen this coming. The face of the franchise had been BENCHED numerous times this past season in the fourth quarter because the soon-to-be Coach of the Year Dwane Casey had much better defensive options in his young second unit and offense was only rarely an issue for this team in their run to first place in the Eastern Conference. It was sold as rest, but that wasn’t always easy to accept.
DeRozan has earned his popularity with the fan base since being drafted ninth overall in 2009 and being thrust into the spotlight with the departure of Chris Bosh the next summer.
DeRozan holds franchise records for regular season games played (675), minutes (22,986), field goals (4716), free throws made (3539), and points (13,296). In the playoffs, where DeRozan often gets flak, the All-Star never averaged less than 20 points and in his 51 career playoff appearances, he averaged 21.9 points.
Loyal to a fault and an excellent franchise ambassador, a frustrated DeRozan wrote on his Instagram page Wednesday morning,
“Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”
But as previously noted, Ujiri is ruthless.
On a pure talent basis, Ujiri won this trade by a landslide. A healthy Leonard is arguably the second best player in the NBA with an all-around game that even LeBron James couldn’t claim this early in his career.
Leonard can do it all. From guarding the best player on the other team in today’s game 1-thru-5, to shooting the three (career 38.6 percent), hitting over 53 percent of his two-point shots and hitting a much higher percentage from the mid-range than even the mid-range assassin DeRozan. Leonard can control a game like only the historically elite in the NBA have done.
Of course there’s a downside or the Spurs would never have considered trading Leonard and it’s really hard to “win” a trade with San Antonio, buyer beware.
Aside from the FACT Leonard can opt out of his contract after this season and would rather be in L.A., this petulant 27-year-old sat out most of last season with pain that his team thought he could/should play thru.
Quad (thigh), calf, ankle, shoulder, both hands, right eye, jumper’s knee, a disturbing number of games due to illness and rest have all impacted on Leonard’s availability over his seven seasons in the NBA as he’s missed over 150 games
But the risk is manageable. Green is a very serviceable veteran wing on an expiring contract and if Leonard leaves after a year, Ujiri will have cleared over $30 million off his payroll and escaped the Luxury Tax after just one season. Lowry and Ibaka will then be on expiring deals and the rebuild can begin in earnest. If Leonard is healthy and happy, Ujiri could end up the real NBA Executive of the Year no matter who gets the award. From a GM perspective, it’s a no lose situation.
It was a cold, calculated and ruthless move to trade a popular face-of-the-franchise who wanted to be a Raptor-for-life, but that’s who Ujiri is. If you’re an owner, he’s the executive you want. If you’re a fan of DeRozan, Ujiri just stabbed him in the back and his fans in the heart.
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson