Reassessing the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard trade 4 years later

Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs
Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

After the 2019 season, it looked like the Toronto Raptors had fleeced the San Antonio Spurs. The Raptors traded franchise icon DeMar DeRozan for a one-year rental of Kawhi Leonard, but in that one season, he brought Canada its first-ever NBA title. In my mind, that’s worth it. 

Leonard and DeRozan were not the only two pieces in that trade, lest you forget. In exchange for Danny Green and Leonard, the Spurs got Jakob Poeltl, DeRozan, and a 2019 first-round pick, which would eventually become Keldon Johnson. Last offseason, the Spurs flipped DeRozan to the Bulls for a first-rounder, two seconds, Thaddeus Young, and Al-Farouq Aminu, who was waived shortly thereafter. The Spurs flipped Young back to Toronto with Drew Eubanks for Goran Dragic (waived) and a 2022 protected pick.

All in all, the Spurs traded Green and Leonard for Poeltl, Johnson, and two first-round picks. That is not bad at all for a rebuilding team. When we consider that Jakob Poeltl is playing near All-Star basketball and Johnson is now one of the best players in the league, and there are still two picks remaining, the Spurs are looking good.

Would the Spurs trade Johnson for Leonard?

Ignoring all the drama that Kawhi left behind in the Alamo City, I want to propose a question. If you were the GM of a basketball team, would you trade Keldon Johnson for Kawhi Leonard now?

In the four years since Johnson entered the league, he has played in 168 games to Leonard’s 111. Kawhi has two All-Star nods in that time and has averaged 25.8 points to Johnson’s 14.8, but Johnson is the better shooter and has shown improvement with his rebounding and passing. 

Even at age 31, Leonard is clearly the better player when he’s healthy, and I’m not convinced that Johnson will ever make five All-Star games and nearly win multiple MVP awards like Leonard has. Of course, all that hinges on Leonard remaining healthy. Kawhi has not played in more than 60 games since the 2016-17 NBA season, and Johnson is yet to miss serious time due to injury.

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The Raptors got a shortened season and a title, but they gave up a solid starting center, and one of the biggest draft steals in recent years. They also lost one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Hindsight is 20/20, but if I’m the Raptors, I would rather keep Poeltl, Johnson, and DeMar for the next decade and try to win multiple titles, knowing what I know now.