It’s tough to argue against acquiring one of the best basketball players in the world. But the Toronto Raptors made the wrong decision when they traded their own All Star in DeMar DeRozan in exchange for Kawhi Leonard’s services.
While it’s true that DeRozan had shown he was not ready to lead his team to the upper echelon of the NBA’s elite, there was still time for that to all happen. Instead, they decided to move on from the four-time All Star, for what appears to be a one-year rental of Leonard, before the latter hits free agency following the 2018-19 season.
There are several red flags surrounding Leonard this year. The first and most obvious one is his health. I’m sure the Raptors gave him a thorough checkup, but that doesn’t come close to matching the intensity of an NBA game, and certainly not the rigorous demands of an entire season, which takes its toll on all player regardless of health.
The question with Leonard is whether he is still the same player he was prior to his entire health saga. One of the things that made him such a great player was his rare ability to provide a major boost to his team on both ends of the court. He would consistently take over the offensive possessions, displaying a multitude of moves and scoring ability. And then, he would run down the court, where he was also his team’s defensive catalyst, shutting down opposing scorers at will. There’s a reason for the immense buzz surrounding him and his decisions regarding his future throughout the offseason.
But what if Leonard is not the same player he once was? What if rumors that his quad injury could have a degenerative effect are true? Could we have already seen the best he has to offer for the basketball world? Nobody truly knows the answers to these questions, and the Raptors took a huge risk on him by giving up on DeRozan just to find out.
Moreover, the fact that Leonard was willing to make such a big deal in his final season in San Antonio, and perhaps even sat out intentionally, really makes you question his character. The Spurs set him up for success, playing behind their former big three, and he could have easily become the team’s future. But if Leonard really avoided playing out of spite, how could the Raptors even trust him? The guy has blatantly said that he is only interested in signing with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent next summer. And for Toronto to think they could persuade him is simply naive.
It is within the realm of possibilities that Leonard only gives a partial effort this season in order to stay as healthy and fresh as possible ahead of a much anticipated joining with the Lakers. And if that’s the case, I really couldn’t tell you what to expect from him in 2018. His attitude, desire to play for another franchise, and his overall health concerns, should have been enough for Toronto to stay away. Or at least to refrain from trading their own franchise player for him.
But this was their decision, and you never know, as it could still pay off for them. But if I were a betting man, I would definitely bet against it.