The San Antonio Spurs have traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. What about the pieces that were in the return package?
Early Wednesday morning, the San Antonio Spurs sent Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors in a multi-player trade, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It concluded the saga between Leonard and the Spurs that started with a preseason quadriceps injury, followed with a breakdown in communication and had a trade request finish it off.
What will these pieces mean for the Silver and Black, imminently and for the future? Let’s take a look:
2019 first-round pick
According to Wojnarowski, the Toronto pick is protected for the 2019 NBA Draft. If it falls between picks 1-20, it stays with the Raptors. 21-30 will go to the Spurs.
However, if the Raptors keep the pick, then the Spurs receive two second-round picks. It’s heavy protection for the compensation that goes to the Alamo City.
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If Toronto receives the MVP-level Kawhi Leonard, who helped San Antonio towards two 60-win seasons, this deal should mean the pick falls within 21-30. Especially as the Raptors kept Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby and the rest of the cast that won a franchise record 59 games.
What if Leonard re-injures his right quadriceps, however? That seems fair to assume with the pick protection, as if he can’t play in 2018-19 or misses a chunk of the season, the Raptors will obviously be without their best player and could find it difficult to compete in the East. They may even sneak into the playoffs, and that would allow them to keep the selection.
Second round picks have produced quality NBA players before, but the success is still if the Spurs can receive a pick that falls between 21-30. At this point, that would mean two first-round picks in 2019, which they have not had in this 21 consecutive seasons of playoff appearances.
Next: Jakob Poeltl
The guaranteed young asset of the Kawhi Leonard trade is Jakob Poeltl, who the Raptors selected in 2016, with the pick they received from the New York Knicks in the head-scratching Andrea Bargnani trade.
Poeltl started to find his footing in year two, playing in all 82 games for Toronto, and took playing time away from Jonas Valanciunas at center. This resulted in 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 18.6 minutes per game, all of which were increases from his rookie campaign.
On the Spurs, this provides them a young center and insurance behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. Aldridge is locked in at power forward, but Gasol is nearly 40 years old and could leave after the 2018-19 season, as he has a partially guaranteed salary that San Antonio can get out of; if not, it’s $16 million on the salary cap for 2019-20.
Poeltl will have the space to take starting center minutes, if necessary. Although Spurs coach Gregg Popovich can slowly work him in and initially use Gasol as the starting center, potentially having them split the minutes.
The Spurs will have Poeltl for at least two seasons, before he hits restricted free agency in 2020. There’s plenty of time to see what they have and to develop the next intriguing frontcourt talent.
Next: DeMar DeRozan
Of the three pieces, DeMar DeRozan is the main name that goes back in the Kawhi Leonard trade. It’s hardly a minor piece for the San Antonio Spurs to receive, even with two (potentially three) years on the books for $27.7 million per season.
In DeRozan, the Spurs add a four-time All-Star to their backcourt. He’s a perennial 20-point scorer that was a key contributor to some of the Eastern Conference’s top teams over the years. Look for another 20-25 points from him, with the ability as a playmaker and the 5.2 assists per game, he produced in the 2017-18 season.
DeRozan lines up as San Antonio’s starting shooting guard, playing next to Dejounte Murray. Both are athletic backcourt pieces, but neither are known for their three-point shooting. Of course, Murray is only two years into his career and DeRozan attempted 3.6 of these shots per game on 31.2 percent, so some ability is there. Can the Spurs tap into the rest of it?
In some cases, the Spurs can use DeRozan as their small forward, using their bevy of guards in small-ball lineups, while placing Rudy Gay at power forward and LaMarcus Aldridge or Pau Gasol at center.
DeRozan is hardly known for his perimeter defense, either, with a career 110 Defensive Rating. Raptors coach Nick Nurse said his desire for the USC product to improve this part of his game before the trade, so will Popovich and the Spurs staff do the same?
The Spurs managed to trade Leonard and close one of the most controversial stories in franchise history. How will they move forward with these new pieces?