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11 winners and losers from the Kawhi Leonard trade

Leonard doesn’t actually want to play for the Raptors, but if they win with him, then what?

After what felt like an entire year of growing distance and unease between one of the league’s most decorated franchises and its biggest star, the San Antonio Spurs finally pulled the trigger on a trade that sends Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green) to Toronto. In exchange, the Spurs receive All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, young big man Jakob Poeltl, and a 2019 first-round pick protected from Nos. 1-20. The pick becomes two future second-round picks if it does not convey next summer.

Leonard has the option to become a free agent next summer, and he’s voiced his desire to return home to Los Angeles and play for the Lakers. But similar players have echoed similar sentiments before turning around and signing a max contract elsewhere.

Regardless of Leonard’s future plans, this was a blockbuster trade and a could be a huge get for the Raptors. But not every team is a winner in this trade. Neither is every player.

Winner: The Eastern Conference

“The West has all the talent.” “No top-5 players are in the Eastern Conference.” “The East is trash.” Well, now the East has one of the top five players in the NBA. That’s the come up of the year right there.

Loser: Boston, Philly, Milwaukee, Washington

Now the East actually has to deal with Leonard in the playoffs. Condolences to all the teams hopeful of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, or further. Good luck playing against playoff Kawhi.

Loser: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs had few good offers on the table for one year of Leonard’s services. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the packages they were extended from Portland, Boston and Philly didn’t include any top-tier players.

The Spurs get a star-level guard with three years and $83 million left on his deal. DeRozan is good, but Leonard is one of the best players in the world when healthy. Under normal circumstances, San Antonio would have gotten a return laden with draft picks and young players. But under these circumstances — circumstances in which Leonard can leave Toronto, or any other team, and become a free agent next summer — no team was willing to give up valuable assets.

Depending on where you stand on DeRozan, the Spurs got between 20 and 40 cents on the dollar in this deal. That has to be tough.

Potential loser: Toronto Raptors

The Raptors just traded for a player who, according to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, has no desire to play for them.

Potential winner: Toronto Raptors

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri pulled the trigger on the trade because he believes he can sell Leonard on re-signing with the Raptors next summer, according to Wojnarowski. Enough success this season could help Ujiri’s case.

The Raptors needed to shake things up, and while swapping Dwane Casey for Nick Nurse as head coach was a start, something else had to happen. Toronto could have just run it back with the same team and prayed for a different result. Instead, they blew out one of the pillars of the franchise and swapped it for the pillar of another.

The Raptors are now ridiculously deep. Here’s a look at their depth chart:

PG: Kyle Lowry/Fred VanVleet/Lorenzo Brown

SG: Danny Green/Delon Wright/Norman Powell

SF: Kawhi Leonard/C.J. Miles/Malachi Richardson

PF: Serge Ibaka/OG Anunoby

C: Jonas Valanciunas/Pascal Siakam

And if they make a deep enough playoff run, Leonard might be motivated to stay somewhere he can win. If Leonard walks, Toronto freed itself of the rest of DeRozan’s contract and can usher in an era of developing and building around the young players in their second unit. And because the 2019 first-round pick is top-20 protected, even if this project crumbles to dust, they still retain their own pick.

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

Leonard may not want to play for the Raptors long-term, but Toronto isn’t the worst layover he could have had. The Spurs could have sent Leonard to the Suns, Magic or any number of teams festering at the bottom of the standings. But they didn’t. They sent him to a perennial East playoff contender, instead.

Leonard can, and likely will, still opt-out of his contract next summer to become a free agent. That’s the type of freedom players fight for during collective bargaining agreement negotiations. But he can also compete for something meaningful this season.

He can play on a loaded Raptors team for a chance at a championship in one of the better NBA cities there are. He can show he doesn’t need Gregg Popovich to be an All-Star wing. He can show he’s still the player that had the Warriors on their heels in the 2017 Western Conference Finals.

It wouldn’t make much sense for Leonard to sit out this season, anyway. He only played in nine games last year. Sitting out would create rust beyond belief.

Loser: DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan was not happy with being traded to San Antonio. It appears Raptors brass told him one thing, then did another by trading him for Leonard.


Winner: DeMar DeRozan

The basketball world saw a new man when DeRozan improved his playmaking and three-point shooting in Toronto last season. Now he’s going to have a chance to play for the most decorated active coach in the NBA. What will Pop turn DDR into?

Winner: Drake

A new All-Star out North gives one of the rap game’s chief lyricist a new player to talk about. Unless he’s not writing his own rhymes, that is.

Loser: Kyle Lowry

His best friend is gone!

Winner: Gregg Popovich

Leonard seemed to be pushing Pop closer and closer to retirement. This had been the ugliest relationship between Spurs and player, ever. It’s over now, and Pop has a star to replace Leonard with.

What kind of evil genius is he going to turn DeRozan into?

Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

Paul George was 100 percent going to play for the Lakers before his career was over. Every rumor, every news report said George wanted to play for his childhood idol, Magic Johnson, on the Staples Center hardwood floors he adored growing up.

But the Lakers never traded for him directly. Instead they bet on themselves and let the Pacers trade George to OKC. George re-signed with the Thunder for four years this summer. He will not be a Laker. There’s a chance, now, that neither will Leonard.

Suppose Leonard is 100 percent healthy and a force on both ends of the floor. And suppose Leonard’s Raptors dance with the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. And suppose Leonard starts liking the attention he gets in Toronto and feels they can beat the Celtics and make it to the NBA Finals?

The Lakers’ recruitment of Leonard just got a little more difficult, but they could also be the biggest winners of the Kawhi Leonard trade

Because if he doesn’t like Toronto after a year there, Leonard is out the door. And if he walks out that door, there’s only one place he’s going.