Many scientists say that dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the Earth by an asteroid. The Toronto Raptors are about to meet their asteroid.
I’m referring to the Raptors’ newly acquired All-NBA forward, former Spur Kawhi Leonard. I suppose the firing of coach Dwayne Casey, Toronto’s coach of seven years – fresh off of leading the team to a franchise-record 59 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference – also counts.
Raptors star DeMar DeRozan, along with rotation player Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick, now reside in San Antonio while Leonard and shooting guard Danny Green have been shipped to Toronto. Neither Leonard or DeRozan, by far the best players in the deal, seem very happy about it.
DeRozan took to Instagram to express his frustration with how Toronto handled the situation and I don’t blame him. Then there’s Leonard, who apparently isn’t thrilled about playing in Toronto.
Leonard’s contract expires in a year and he has made it clear that the Lakers are his preferred destination via trade or as a free agent. I highly doubt that he stays with the Raptors past the 2018-19 season, but there’s also no guarantee that Leonard ends up in Los Angeles.
There’s buzz about the Lakers picking up All-NBA guard Damian Lillard to pair with LeBron James, and we have no idea if another A-lister will join James in L.A. before Leonard hits the market next summer.
But this got me thinking: If Kawhi didn’t go to Los Angeles, where could he end up?
He could stay in the weaker Eastern Conference, where less competition stands in the way of a Finals run. Boston has the assets to make it happen, but how much would making room for Kawhi gut the Celtics’ depth? I’d imagine Gordon Hayward would be out. He plays the same position as Leonard and was a high-profile free agent a year ago before signing with Boston.
Both Hayward and Leonard are coming off significant injuries: Kawhi with his quadricep, which limited him to nine games last season, and Hayward, who suffered a gruesome leg injury in Boston’s season opener against Cleveland and missed the final 81 games plus the postseason.
And what about Kyrie Irving, who left Cleveland to escape the shadow of LeBron James? Irving might not appreciate adding another player of similar caliber to the team. He would no longer be the best player on the team, and it would only fuel speculations that he already wants out of Boston. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kawhi’s arrival signals Irving’s departure.
The Celtics would still be the best team in the East, but is adding Leonard a necessary step in their progression toward an NBA title?
I could also see him joining Philadelphia. Whether or not the Sixers were actually close to signing LeBron before he chose the Lakers, nabbing Leonard would be the next best thing. They both play the same position and while the 33-year-old James is the superior player today, he will eventually age out of his prime.
Leonard, on the other hand, is just 27 and before last year’s turbulent season appeared to be entering his prime. Also, he’s less ball-dominant than LeBron, which could make it easier to find chemistry with Philadelphia’s star point guard Ben Simmons. On top of that, Leonard brings a championship pedigree to a team sorely lacking playoff experience.
Leonard, Simmons and Joel Embiid would run the East and in short time contend for an NBA title.
Another team in the East to keep an eye on is Indiana. The Pacers already have a young star who can double as a lockdown defender in Victor Oladipo. Adding Leonard to that squad would help provide leadership and stability to the post-Paul George Indiana.
Of course, there’s a chance he ends up back in the Western Conference. Don’t count out the Spurs.
I know that sounds ridiculous at first glance, but imagine Kawhi trying to lead an underachieving, rebuilding Toronto team through the East. He realizes how good he had it in San Antonio, how stable things were within the Spurs organization and how lucky he was to have a legendary coach in Gregg Popovich.
He’ll have time to gain the necessary perspective in order to clear the air with his former team. And then the joke’s really on Toronto, because he’d go back and line up alongside DeRozan, a scary-good dynamic duo.
I also like New Orleans. A team led by Kawhi and Anthony Davis would sport one of the NBA’s best defenses and would ooze star power each time the two shared the court together. With DeMarcus Cousins gone, there’s another spot for a star in the Big Easy and Leonard could be that guy.
Finally, don’t count out Utah. Leonard’s desire to play in Los Angeles suggests his preference of being out of the spotlight may be overblown, but I don’t think that means he doesn’t enjoy it.
The Jazz offer another chance to lay low and just play ball, as well as a budding star in Donovan Mitchell and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert.
The San Antonio Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors and received a package centered around Demar Derozan.