“In The Scope With Joshua M. Hicks” is a weekly column from the lead columnist of WARR
What made the Kawhi situation so interesting is in part what continues to make the story spin through the media cycle — the lack of communication on behalf of the principal figure, Kawhi himself, on top of the lack of info as to why this has all happened at all.
We still don’t know why Leonard’s relationship with his previous home, San Antonio, went into the dumpster, we don’t know if he’s happy or not to be sent to Toronto, his new home as of Wednesday, when the two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner along with teammate Danny Green was dealt to the Toronto Raptors for four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round pick.
And more than that, we don’t know if Leonard is begrudging this move as it makes his supposed plans to eventually join the Los Angeles Lakers play out in a more circuitous fashion.
All that is still to be decided, ensuring the Kawhi Leonard story will be not only one of the NBA’s top stories for 2018 but for 2019 as well.
On paper, most people think the current trade looks lopsided, but in reality it may turn out to be a good deal for both parties.
By making this trade, the Raptors made it clear that it was time to move on from the All-Star duo of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and choosing DeRozan as the first to go freed up some salary cap space that kept the team locked from doing any big roster movements for a few seasons.
But by taking Leonard, a likely rental that is not committed long-term as of now, shows that the team is looking into a reboot before taking the leap into a full rebuild, and there is no better way to reboot than by pairing your top All-Star point guard with the best two-way player in the league.
Trading for Leonard is still a very risky move, especially since he has made it known he is not interested in staying long-term for any other franchise except the Lakers, the likelihood of the mute superstar being eventual teammates with LeBron James should escalate the closer we get to his free agency next summer, plus Leonard’s health still in question — remember, that’s where the problems with San Antonio all stem from, how that health was being managed.
However, the move increases Toronto’s chances of being the best team in the Eastern Conference and — with high success over the course of their next 82 games — makes it possible for Leonard to change his mind and commit to the team long-term.
Think back a year, or pull up hot takes from that time, and you’ll see most NBA observers having Paul George as a lock to enter 2018 free agency in order to become a Laker, that majority belief didn’t change as he became a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder via trade.
The once unthinkable became thinkable when George announced his intention to sign long-term with OKC on the eve of the free agency period. George had a chance in front of him to be a Laker but after a year in an encouraging situation elsewhere he felt comfortable enough to change his plans.
Even with his manageability becoming less predictable within the last year, Leonard can be seen as one of the lowest maintenance superstars the NBA has seen in a long time. There’s nothing in his history or established nature outside of being a native Southern Californian that ensures that he is still bound for the Staples Center.
Reports have also surfaced about Leonard warming up to the idea of some sort of commitment to the 6, it is safe to say that the predicted free agency to Lakerland is not set in stone and most importantly, Drizzy Drake and the Raptors will officially have a seat at the table in the official Leonard Decision.
The San Antonio Spurs took advantage of the opportunity to trade their best asset to the East and got themselves a package of quality talent in return, gaining a first-round pick in next year’s draft, a position in which they have proven to excel in selecting quality talent to fit Popovich’s system, but grabbing the two-time All-NBA player was an ideal replacement pickup. DeRozan is up there on the list of top two-way players in the league.
Averaging 23 points and 5 assists on 45 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from three, the three-point line has proven to be one of DeRozan’s weaknesses, something that the Spurs thrive in as a team, but overall he fits into a winning system evolving around constant movement and quality role players that do their jobs at a high rate every night, something DeRozan has proven to thrive about after changing a losing culture in Toronto.
The most deadly weapon for DeRozan going forward is the ability to play with LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the best offensive big men in the league. Playing DeRozan and Aldridge in a pick and roll game will be tough for opponents to guard, and with shooters along the perimeter and high hopes that DeRozan can develop a consistent three-point jump shot in the prime of his career, the Spurs will continue to level up and stay competitive in the tough Western Conference.
DeRozan also has the opportunity to be a mentor to a rising young point guard in Dejounte Murray and their new draft prospect in Lonnie Walker IV, whose skillset is reportedly similar to Dwyane Wade or The Claw (Leonard) himself.
With this deal the Raptors upgraded their talent and kept their recent success and relevancy in tact while the Spurs continue to skip any rebuild phase and retool with a new prime player in town.
For now, both teams can be considered winners of this deal, but the 2019 free agency will determine how sunny the future views from the 6 will be along with determining the ultimate winner of the Leonard sweepstakes.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Chicago-based sports writer and broadcaster, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio