I awoke Tuesday morning surprised at the push alerts that signalled the Toronto Raptors‘ new reality. Not surprised that they had just acquired the best franchise player in team history for a package most would have laughed at, but that the response online from fans ranged from bewilderment to disgust.
I’ve taken appraisal of the comments on articles on this very website and scrolled through all types of panic posts in my mentions. After being afraid the team was capped out and had become stale, ‘We the North’ nation is largely quibbling about attaining the best player the franchise has ever had in Kawhi Leonard? Why can’t we have nice things?
The city of Toronto got John Tavares and Leonard in the same month. Yet people worry about who will be the Leafs’ captain and if Leonard will like the cold. Local rapper Kardinal Offishall lovingly called Toronto the screwface capital and it’s true: we love to vex. We probably started outrage culture. Drake’s ‘I’m Upset’ should be the soundtrack to our sports summer.
Don’t get me wrong, that passion is positive. I love the fact that you, the fan, are so invested in the team and so virtuous you value loyalty over ability.
But the Raptors are in rarified air in cruel and unusual NBA times. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have ripped off the band aid and made it clear that being a nice team isn’t nice enough. In fact, they went 100 per cent ‘Nice For What.’ This is grown up business where feelings can get hurt and educated fan bases will understand if the sole goals are the ring and a banner. Or, in this case, scratching closer towards it by any means necessary.
See: the Boston Celtics, and their fans. Isaiah Thomas went from sub to all-star in front of their eyes. I.T. played above expectations, through misdiagnosed injury, and after the death of his sister. Despite his assertions of wanting to stay, Danny Ainge kicked him and his injured hip to the curb the moment they could upgrade at his position with a disgruntled superstar in Kyrie Irving, that they could acquire at a discount, and inch closer to championship contender status. Celtics fans felt bad, but their yearning for another banner is what they wanted even more. There was no debate, no outrage.
Raptors fans should take note. What other fan base is upset when they acquire the best player in their franchise’s history?
So, here’s a step-by-step anecdote to walk you back from your apoplectic state. If I’m preaching to the choir here’s a fool proof guide to use when debating your friends on why the Leonard trade was worth it and worthy of your praise.
Here are nine reasons why Raptors fans should rejoice, not rebel, about the Leonard trade because it signals that the Larry O’Brien trophy isn’t just lip service, but the sole goal.
1. Kawhi is really good at basketball… on both ends
The best player in the Eastern Conference is now a Raptor. What was added to a 59-win team that was top-five in both offence and defence and had the best record in the East was a Finals MVP, two-time defensive player of the year, that has been top-five in MVP voting twice.
The last time he played a full season, 2016-17, he finished third in the NBA MVP voting, averaging 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Above all else when you get the best player in a deal, you win the deal. Leonard is just one of 10 players ever to have more steals than personal fouls. He’s one of just three players to win both defensive player of the year and Finals MVP.
The other two are Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan.
The best moments from Kawhi as a member of the Spurs! pic.twitter.com/rAu2qwksis
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 18, 2018
2. Danny Green is a perfect fit
The forgotten man in this trade is Danny Green, who is on an expiring deal worth $10 million dollars and shoots almost 40 per cent for his career from three. The Raptors not only got the best player in the deal, they got the third-best in a four-player deal.
Green will be a rotation player right away, brings winning habits from the San Antonio Spurs and his three and ‘D’ capability perfectly suits new head coach Nick Nurse.
3. Leonard could fall in love with Toronto
Kyle Lowry was open about not wanting to be in Toronto long-term when he was traded here from a Texas team in the Houston Rockets. Lowry re-signed in Toronto not once but twice and eventually bought property here. Before that, in 2011, the Los Angeles Clippers acquired Chris Paul from New Orleans after a trade to Paul’s preferred destination, the Los Angeles Lakers, was halted by the league. Paul twice re-signed with the Clippers.
More recently, Paul George re-signed in Oklahoma City! The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t even get a meeting with George after it was assumed Oklahoma City was just a pit stop. Toronto is a world-class city with a first-class basketball organization, and fans that are second to one. Leonard is going to a bigger (I’d argue better) city with a better chance to win a championship than the one he previously resided in. He’ll learn like others before him have there are much worse places to play.
4. The Raptors can trade Leonard
So, what if Leonard is stuck in his ways and doesn’t want to stay? The Raptors can trade him in a sign-and-trade to his preferred destination, can trade him at the deadline to a contending team that wants to add him for the stretch run or they can even trade him now!
The Raptors can officially trade Leonard or Green for that matter, as soon as all the players involved in the deal pass their physicals. They purchased a depreciated asset, buying low, and they can sell high. If Leonard proves he’s healthy, they can trade him for a higher price and recoup not only more value than they traded for him but more value than they would have received on the open market for DeMar DeRozan or even Kyle Lowry.
5. Raptors’ projected rotation next season
This the deepest most versatile team the Raptors have ever had. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: Danny Green, C.J. Miles, Norman Powell
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas
6. Threes matter to Nick Nurse
The one thing we know about Nurse is he wants everyone on the floor to be a threat shooting three-pointers. Everyone on that depth chart is comfortable shooting from distance. In fact, every Raptor shown above, other than their two centres, are above 40 per cent three-point shooters over their career on corner threes — the ones Nurse wants to hunt.
That’s not true of the two players the Raptors traded. DeRozan has averaged 20-plus points for five consecutive seasons but is a 28.9 per cent lifetime three-point shooter. He was 0-9 from three versus Cleveland in the playoffs. Jakob Poetl is entering his third season and hasn’t been able to stretch his range far outside the paint while averaging just 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds last year.
7. Cap situation becomes clearer
If Leonard re-signs next summer, that’s a win. If not, it alleviates serious cap issues for Toronto at the exact time when a bevy of stars are hitting the open market and most contending teams will not have cap space. Keeping DeRozan would’ve meant the opposite, as he has a cap hit of $27.7 million for the next three seasons with a player option in 2020-21.
Instead, Norman Powell’s $11 million is all that is currently owed for the 2020-21 season. Moving off the $83.2 million DeRozan is owed through 2020-21 was a win, regardless of what player was coming back in return. Not often can you shed salary and add a superstar simultaneously.
8. Cash rules everything
Money is a big motivator. Not only are the Raptors offering the ability to become the face of Canada’s NBA franchise, they are selling a payday of five years and $189.7 million.
The Lakers, or anyone else for that matter, can only offer a four-year deal for $140.6 million. There isn’t a long track record of superstars leaving max money on the table. After already missing out on the five-year designated veteran extension worth $221.3 million the Spurs could’ve offered him, I doubt Leonard will be willing to forego even more money.
9. Leonard won’t sit out
If Leonard sits out this season he can be fined every day from the beginning of training camp until the Raptors recoup his $20 million salary. Even if he didn’t care about the money, playing nine games over two years is not the spring board he’d want to jump in to free agency with, in what should be the height of his career.
The Raptors are in the midst of the best run in franchise history, with five consecutive playoff appearances. But they have just one Eastern Conference Finals appearance to show for it.
Nothing great in life comes without sacrifice. Daryl Morey has talked about the era of the super-team Golden State Warriors forcing opposing teams to increase their risk profile. Ujiri has done that, while building in insurance and future flexibility.
You may not love the deal, but relative to the options, Raptors fans should learn to like it no matter what team Leonard is on 365 days from now.