If the San Antonio Spurs work out a trade with the Toronto Raptors for Kawhi Leonard, who could go the other way in a deal?
The San Antonio Spurs still hold Kawhi Leonard on their roster, but it’s possible he leaves them via trade before the 2018-19 season starts in October. With a number of suitors, it will be interesting to see who steps up, but a recent name in the running, the Toronto Raptors, seem in position to make a play at the former NBA MVP candidate.
Toronto joined the chase earlier this month, after the Eastern Conference became wide open, when LeBron James jumped ship to the Los Angeles Lakers. The question, though, is who could the Masai Ujiri-led front office send to San Antonio for Leonard?
The Raptors have a handful of trade candidates. It’s difficult to think all of these players join the transaction, but who from this group could be involved? Let’s break down some of them.
Amidst the playoff turmoil, the Toronto Raptors found a bright spot in OG Anunoby, their 2017 first-round pick. He flashed upside as a scorer, with 47.1 percent shooting and 37.1 percent from behind the arc. It was only on 4.7 attempts per game, but just a small sample size when playing with DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka taking most of the shots.
Anunoby’s defense might appeal to the San Antonio Spurs more than anything, however. At 6-foot-8, they can use him as a defensive specialist who matches against opposing wings, especially with the talent that the Golden State Warriors, the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets will throw at them.
Can San Antonio mold Anunoby into a better scorer to supplement this? It might sound reminiscent of Kawhi Leonard, when he first arrived in 2011, but Anunoby has some ways to go before that becomes a consideration.
As a second or third piece to a deal, Anunoby can be the young piece that goes back to the Spurs, behind DeRozan, and give the organization something to look forward to in a three-year project.
Next: Jakob Poeltl
The San Antonio Spurs are in need of youth at center and power forward, with LaMarcus Aldridge nearing his mid-30’s and Pau Gasol on his way to 40. Jakob Poeltl would help trend this group towards a younger side, and it would not be as a main part of a Kawhi Leonard trade, as well.
Poeltl found an increased role in his sophomore season, and followed up with 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 18.6 minutes, along with appearing in every game. So, the durability is there, the upside for a higher production and as a rim-protecting center with 1.2 blocks per game.
Poeltl has starting upside for San Antonio, which he could receive a run at next season. Once Gasol potentially leaves after the 2018-19 season (or if he joins this Leonard trade), the center job could belong to this Gonzaga product.
Pascal Siakam is another young big man the Toronto Raptors have at their disposal. After two seasons, he flashed some upside as a backup power forward behind Serge Ibaka and even showed increased 3-point range at 1.6 attempts per game.
Adding to the veteran frontcourt, Siakam might not become a full-time starter but offer the under-the-rim supplement that the San Antonio Spurs need. Davis Bertans and Rudy Gay can handle stretch four roles but are not the bruising big bodies of the typical big man.
Siakam can fall in as a depth part of a trade package, as the No. 2 or 3 piece that goes back to San Antonio and fill a need in the frontcourt.
Next: Jonas Valanciunas
Perhaps the most curious part of the San Antonio Spurs offseason is the absence of any center additions. They re-signed Rudy Gay, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes, signed Marco Belinelli and drafted Lonnie Walker IV, none of whom fill this role. Chimezie Metu is a center but he may go to the G League, given there’s no contract in place yet.
If the Spurs work a Kawhi Leonard deal with the Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas can become the fresh addition at center and has a $16 million salary that falls $4 million short of Leonard’s. Valanciunas and DeRozan can also join the same deal if the Silver and Black send Pau Gasol’s salary.
Valanciunas has never broken out of the 12-point, 8-rebound range for the Raptors, but it’s still a consistent track record along the way. He never went above the 30-minute average, either, and had a career-low 22.4 minutes per game, as Jakob Poeltl took a larger role in the rotation.
Valanciunas could need a change of scenery, and under a one-year deal (with a player option for the 2019-20 season), he can find it with the Spurs, potentially as the starting center next to LaMarcus Aldridge. Maybe it wouldn’t be too different from his role with Toronto, as the NBA trends towards smaller lineups that can shoot, but still worth the younger depth for Gregg Popovich to have.
Next: DeMar DeRozan
Any Kawhi Leonard deal may start with DeMar DeRozan, who’s scheduled to make nearly $28 million in 2018-19 and can handle shooting guard/small forward for the San Antonio Spurs, in place of the player going the other way. The other option, Kyle Lowry, is four years older and will make $31 million in 2018-19 and $33 million in 2019-20.
DeRozan’s playoff reputation overshadows what he can do on the court, with five consecutive seasons of 20-plus points per game; he topped out at 27.3 points in 2016-17. Even last season, the USC product shot a career-high 31.2 percent on 3-pointers.
Outside shooting is still a question, especially to join a team that already fell near the bottom of the league in this category, Anything can happen under Gregg Popovich and Chip Engelland, who’s helped Spurs shooters in the past, but it still learns the team towards mid-range shooting in a Splash Brothers league.
DeRozan still adds a quality scorer to a group that could use legitimate No. 2 to LaMarcus Aldridge, instead of relying on players that have No. 3 or 4 upside. This was an issue with Leonard last season who would be a valid player to fill the leading role, obviously, but that does not seem to be an option at this point.