Almost one year ago the Toronto Raptors shocked the NBA world by trading for Kawhi Leonard. Now, Kawhi and the Toronto Raptors sit atop the NBA, after winning their first-ever Championship. Now that we live in a world of Kawhi Leonard as the undisputed King of the East (or King of the North for you Raps/GOT fans), it is easy to forget the skepticism that faced the Raptors decision to trade for the mysterious superstar.
The Leonard trade came on the back of months of rumors surrounding Kawhi Leonard’s rumored issues with the San Antonio Spurs handling of Leonard’s injury. Kawhi’s distrust in the Spurs resulted in Leonard sitting out the entirety of the 2017-2018 NBA season and playoffs. In the summer of 2018, Leonard demanded a trade from the Spurs, and made it clear that he would only re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers or Lakers. For the weeks leading up to the Leonard trade, it seemed that Leonard would be shipped to the Lakers (For a package of Brandon Ingram and a collection of picks) in order to team up with Lebron James in LA. The move to LA never materialized, and instead, Leonard was traded to the Raptors in a package that included Demar Derozen, Jakob Potel, and the 2019 Raptors first-round pick.
At the time of the trade, the Raptors were coming fresh off of another failure to reach the NBA Finals and were in need of a reset. By dealing Demar Derozen (who had been a career Raptor and fan-favorite) for a player who seemed to have no interest in signing long-term contract in Toronto, the Raps signaled to the NBA that they were all in on the 2019-2020 season.
Luckily for the Raptors, this gambit paid off.
Leonard had an incredible postseason, winning the Finals MVP Award and was the focal point of a championship-winning team. Additionally, Leonard’s presence has seemed to make the young core of the Raptors step their game up with Pascal Siakam and Fred VanFleet having career seasons for the Raptors. Finally, if the Raptors success in the current NBA season was not enough to prove that the risk of trading for Leonard, it seems that Leonard is at least considering a return to Toronto with rumors of him re-signing this summer beginning to circulate.
The Raptors took a risk in trading for a disgruntled superstar looking for the bright lights of LA. The Raptors risk paid off massively, and it could signal to other teams looking to take a step-up to the elite level, that they may need to risk stability for a super-star. The Raptors method could once again prop up this summer with rumours Wizards star Bradley Beal demanding to be traded to a big market. Like Leonard, Beal is a disgruntled superstar player with an upcoming free agency rapidly approaching, who has his sights set on playing in the biggest market teams in the league. While it is possible that the Knicks or Lakers will be the team to trade for Beal’s services, the success of the Kawhi deal could give smaller market team with some playoff success the confidence to trade for the young-star in order to reach final contenders status.
One of these possible small market teams looking to make the leap to finals contender is the Denver Nuggets. This past season, Nikola Jokic lead the Nuggets to the 2nd round of the West Playoffs where they lost in 7 games to the Portland Trailblazers. The Nuggets are a team full of young talent that could be shipped off in any potential trade for Davis. One package could center around Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Michal Porter JR being moved to pair Jokic with Beal and create one of the most dominant one-two punches in the league. While Denver making this move could result in them blowing up future consistency for one year of Beal, the potential success of combining Beal and Jokic could result in a jump to finals contenders for the Nuggets.
Toronto traded for Kawhi Leonard knowing that it could potentially result in mortgaging their future for a one-year rental. While it is still unclear if Kawhi’s presence in Toronto will last longer than this season, Leonard’s dominance in the playoffs has resulted in absolute success for the Raptors and made them NBA champions. The Raptors success has shown the rest of the league that sometimes, you have to risk long term stability for a shot at a superstar and NBA title. This summer we may seem even more teams take the risk that Toronto did, the only question is will they succeed.