After nine months of injury updates, inexplicable absences and rampant speculation, Kawhi Leonard was finally traded. The Raptors send DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first round (1-20) to San Antonio in exchange for Leonard and Danny Green. The deal was rumored for nearly two weeks, but talks intensified on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning it was official.
Now there are a number of ripple effects that we now go through by examining the biggest winners and losers in the transaction.
Winners: The Raptors
There will be a lot of jokes about next July when Toronto will try to get Kawhi into a cold winter and the Canadian market over Southern California and the largest To choose stage in basketball. On this front we have already heard Sources say "Kawhi Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto." There may also be jokes that the Raptors land someone who guards LeBron, but only after LeBron has left the East. And speaking of years of torture, there is also the possibility that Kawhi will dominate this year, Toronto will make the final, and LeBron will recruit him to L.A. next summer, breaking Toronto's heart one last time.
Jokes and worst-case scenarios aside, the raptors are winners regardless. The team they brought with them had a ceiling that had become clear in recent seasons. You may think that all problems with LeBron have been solved in the West, but they went several steps behind the Celtics in the next season, with a core that was consistently inferior in the playoffs. At some point it makes sense to play.
The problem with trading with Kyle Lowry or DeRozan was that no one in the league would offer comparable value to players who guaranteed the Raptors a base of 50 wins each season. Lowry and DeRozan were good players in the East, but there was always a limit to what other teams could imagine in a different situation. So what's the point in acting bona fide All-Stars when you come back, say, Harrison Barnes? Or Andrew Wiggins? Or Luol Deng and B-list Lakers prospects? Or a selection in the middle of the first round? Most of the Raptor rumors we've heard over the years have been limited – upside solutions that would have left Toronto in the middle of the league. Kawhi is different.
Kawhi, if he is healthy, gives the Raptors an MVP candidate who is probably the most dominant player the franchise ever had. Healthy Kawhi makes the Raptors the second best team in the East. In addition to Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby he makes their defense monstrous. And he's making the next 12 months exponentially more interesting and exciting for Toronto than the last few years. There are obvious risks that we will discuss later: free administration next July, Kawhi's state of health, Kawhi's mindset, Uncle Dennis, etc. – but that made a lot of sense, because inaction was Toronto's own choice. I already tried. Now the "cultural change" becomes reality.
When Kawhi goes to Toronto and thrives there and finally stays, this game really pays off. If he goes to Toronto and does not get excited about next summer, next season is the bridge to a new era in which the Raptors are working to find solutions beyond DeRozan and Lowry. Anyway, it feels like a healthy step.
Loser: The Spurs
Look, there are many things to say about everything that has happened in San Antonio in the last 12 months. Most of it unfolded in a way that Spurs fans and even Spurs management never anticipated or prepared. Now that Kawhi is really gone, I'm curious how much stranger the anecdotes from last season can be. (Are we hiding "in New York City from Spurs Front Office members in a separate part of the building?" )
A staple in the meantime: This lineup hurts my head.  The Spurs have made an art of Zigg, while the rest of the league cackles, but man. I dont know. With LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan it is quite a journey to focus on a thrilling midrange offensive.
It's safe to say San Antonio wins nearly 50 games with this lineup – I'll always bet – but it may not be nice, and it certainly does not look as healthy as Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and others Josh Hart. On the other hand, San Antonio has never had an impact on the Lakers, the Front Office has rejected Celtics' offers during the season, and by this time in the summer it is probably the best the Spurs could have hoped to get back any star ,
There are going to be people who claim that they were scalded by Masai Ujiri, but I can not really blame them for bringing back 50 cents for the dollar. The Spurs lost this fight months ago, and if they made mistakes in this process, the biggest mistake was not to admit defeat sooner. By July, Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford acted with a player who: put off an entire season, sold every in the building, placed trade claims on return channels, was not 100% healthy (at least in the eyes of potential trading partners) and made it clear he plans to go to Los Angeles next summer. In addition to halving the Spurs' leverage, it has been halved by four different times over the last six months. Of course they lost this trade in the end. The more interesting question is when – and why – everything began to turn.
Winner: Masai Ujiri
On the one hand, Ujiri has led the most successful track in the history of the Raptor franchise, building a culture of continuing excellence that involves some 20 teams around the NBA would be places with a heartbeat. So Masai is bulletproof. He has a job for life. But the end of last season made everyone look bad and Masai was no exception. His roster was mediocre, the Serge Ibaka deal was a disaster, the firing of Dwane Casey was obviously not a sensible solution, and the next steps were unclear.
Now he has found a way forward. The Raptors should be very good next season, and if not, the story will be about Kawhi, not the General Manager. From there, either keeping Kawhi or losing it next summer, this team will have much more clarity about what they will build in 2019 and the 2020s. Masai has been able to retain Toronto's favorite long-term projects, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, and the Raptors will race for more money next year than they did years ago. Nobody talks about the Ibaka deal, and nobody asks what the plan is.
Siakam and Anunoby may never be better than the fourth and fifth best players of a good team, but abstract, keeping them is a big win. And while this gambling can go in many different directions, the Masai Mystique is now back.
Winner: Gregg Popovich
The popov side of this agreement is much harder to read. In a sense, I'm sure the collapse with Kawhi Popovich will take years, and it's a bittersweet coda to one of the most successful careers the NBA has ever seen. But apart from this grim reality, it's also fair to say that pop will retire in the next few years, and Wednesday's deal adds a silver lining to the twilight.
There's a version of this story where next year's Spurs would fill up and Pop spent his final season watching Dejounte Murray and Davis Bertans being drilled every night at 30 o'clock. Instead, we can see Pop using DeRozan and Aldridge to stubbornly reverse every lesson in the modern NBA, surpassing the league's expectations, without the superstar who betrayed his team succeeding and finding a way of renewed success to have. For someone as competitive as Popovich, it's a lot more fun than falling over the last few years of his career and playing for 2023. And for a small market team like San Antonio, reconstruction comes with a world of questions that have no clear answers. There is nothing wrong with waiting a few years for this road.
Loser: DeMar DeRozan
The DeRozan side of this agreement was not entirely "Celtic and Isaiah" levels of cold hearted, but it is close. DeRozan bought everything that Toronto has been trying to do in recent seasons. He improved his game year after year. He loved it in Toronto after a decade in which both Chris Bosh and Vince Carter went. He had all the intangibles that a team wanted with a franchisee.
In the end, none of this mattered. DeRozan was not quite good enough to be the best player of a title contender. In the last couple of postseason races, his offensive play has been interrupted again and again, and sometime in the next two years he will have a significant lag that the Raptors were (obviously) unenthusiastic about the offer.
It makes sense that he was the one who was traded, but it's also obviously a crap. When DeRozan gets some comfort, it's joining an organization that keeps good players looking good while finding ways to hide their mistakes. Spurs DeRozan could even be better than Raptors DeRozan. Likewise, DeMar has basically joined Team Spite – see the section above – and it'll be fun to see Pop and LaMarcus and DeMar do everything in their power to win 50 games, just to upset everyone who expects they disappear to Kawhi.
Winner: Dejoitte Murray Believers
Spurs Fans Must Wrap Up the World Cup DVDs and Watch These Highlights from Seattle's Summer League If you believe in Dejounte Murray – me do it! – The long-term future in San Antonio is not completely hopeless. In any case, Murray will have more chances than ever to prove himself next season and give Spurs fans a reason to think about the 2020s without a meltdown.
TBD: The Sixers
The low season of the Sixers is not defined by mistakes, so that's something. In the wake of the Colangelo catastrophe, Philly has been very careful to maintain its flexibility over the next few years and refuses to pay too much for any disappointing solutions. The Sixers missed LeBron and Paul George, so instead they'll return with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and another year of short-term fixes and room for the stars of next summer. That could be the right call. But as Toronto has proven in the past few seasons, inaction comes with its own downsides.
Of the players who may be in the market next year – Kawi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Al Horford, Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Love – There are few who are considered realistic Sixers goals. And beyond next summer, expansions of Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are expected, and the money will be scarce. Given the tight time window to add new parts, and how quickly Embiid and Simmons have turned into All-NBA Level talents who would have a realistic finale with a little more help, playing on Kawhi would have made a lot of sense. Maybe the Spurs were not interested in Fultz, Covington and Dario. Maybe Kawhi's medical history scared Philly. Perhaps Brett Brown's ties to San Antonio have given him an extra glimpse of how crazy things were last season.
Whatever the case, there was no decision by Sixer's Kawhi that did not involve enormous risks. Trading for him meant bets on a one-year lease, which may not be healthy. On the other hand, when Kawhi shows up in Toronto and looks 100% healthy, we will look back on this summer and wonder why Philly did not push harder to do that.
Winner: The Dignity of the East
Hey, now! Move Kawhi from San Antonio to Toronto and suddenly the Eastern Conference does not look as hopeless as it did 24 hours ago. The talent pool in the East is still ridiculously worse than anything in the West, but after losing LeBron and staring at an all-star game that could involve eight different members of the Celtics, Kawhi helps the East demand a little dignity.
Loser: The Dreamers of the West
The Western Conference playoff race is murdering year after year and next season will be no exception. With LeBron in L.A., the Lakers can certainly be slotted into the top eight somewhere. Then there's the Nuggets, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Clippers, who will compete last season as lottery contenders planning a playoff run next year. That's an incredibly tight crisis, and at least these prospective playoff teams could find solace this summer, as the Spurs would probably be screwed in royally on every Kawhi deal and fall out of the playoff race.
Now it is not so clear. Team Spite in San Antonio can not start with a chance to win a title next season, but DeRozan should have enough firepower to remain competitive in the middle of the conference. This development is good news for the Spurs and entertaining news for basketball fans. And while teams like the Bulls or Hornets are not having completely crazy playoff dreams, all this is yet another reminder that life in the West is deeply unfair.
TBD: The Lakers
There are a few different ways to read this for the Lakers. On the one hand, Pelinka and Magic never blinked in the days before the freelance agency, as the Spurs moved heaven and earth to create a bidding war for Kawhi. That was smart. They will keep Brandon Ingram, a potential All-Star who is still 21 years old, and they still have a chance to sign Kawhi next summer. Plus, instead of disappointing their team for a player who missed almost the entire season, Magic, Pelinka and LeBron will have a year to watch him in Toronto to find out how healthy Leonard really is and if he makes sense It was all smart and easy to do in LA.
On the other hand, even if the Lakers are in better shape than the Sixers (because they are already the favorites to sign Kawhi next summer), their inaction still comes with many similar questions. If Kawhi was 100%, he could have helped LeBron in the top of the West this season. If Kawhi thrives in Toronto and decides to stay next summer, a potential MVP candidate will be removed from the team in 2019, and suddenly the Lakers might get into B + options for LeBron. Similarly, there is a chance that a team like the Clippers may come into the mix either with a monster offer on the trade deadline or an offer next summer. Any of these scenarios is frustrating for L.A., the latter being particularly disturbing.
The Lakers accepted these drawbacks and chose the top of their young players and the potential to steal Kawhi anyway. The "It may all happen that Paul George stayed in OKC" is probably overstated – most players who promise to go will actually go – but there are still some serious risks that have nothing to do with it.
Winner and loser: Spurs Culture
The mystique surrounding the Spurs has always been a bit misleading. It is true that San Antonio is a franchise that, through smarter gaming, innovative scouting, the development of players in a way that other teams can not, and by promoting a culture among their coaches and players who are nowhere else in the world Professional gives, thrives on sport. This culture was always real and helped them to come within reach. But in the center of everything that was good for the Spurs, there were always superstars. That way the Spurs were never as clear as they seemed.
Like any other great team, San Antonio's success depended on the Hall of Fame players and their willingness to invest in what the franchise sold. The past year of Kawhi underlined this point. The minute he disappeared from the grid, the Spurs became mortal again. No amount of scouting magic or ball movement could fill the vacuum he left behind. This past season was the first time in 20 years that San Antonio missed nearly 50 wins.
If Kawhi unknowingly emphasizes the limitations of Spurs culture, of course, the way this run ended also highlights how remarkable the whole time was. It's not normal for superstars to cram year after year, stay loyal to a loyal market in Texas, play for each other, develop stylistically from year to year and play for a coach as dominant as Popovich. It worked in San Antonio because the people at the heart of the story were players in a generation, but also personalities that the NBA had never seen before and has not seen since. Kawhi looked like he would fit in that shape until he did not. If he goes on, that's one more reason to be fascinated by the careers of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and everything they've built up over the last 20 years.
And as for Kawhi …
TBD: Kawhi Leonard
The last time he played a full season healthy, he had a strong argument for MVP and He was undoubtedly one of the top five living players. Go back and see how he guts the Grizzlies in the playoffs. He was incredible. If he is 100%, he is probably the most talented player since Kevin Garnett. But maybe he's not healthy, he may not want to play in Toronto, and while everyone will spend the next 12 months putting him on the Lakers, we're not even sure he's interested in that option. So how great can Kawhi be? How real were the injuries? Where is this story from here? How excited should the Raptors be?
We will all find out together.