I woke up to a #wojbomb.
Kawhi Leonard has been traded. Not to the Lakers, but to our friends in the north, the Raptors. Our neighbors in Toronto got a good one, but gave up a good one in the process. The full deal:
San Antonio has agreed to trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick, league sources tell ESPN. Trade call with league office is beginning momentarily. https://t.co/6DZNdAs8BM
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 18, 2018
Source: Toronto's first-round pick to San Antonio is protected 1-20. After one year, it becomes two second-round picks.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 18, 2018
There are things to say about this from the Raptors and Spurs perspective, but I’d summarize thusly…
The Raptors moved a really, really good player for a, when healthy, great one. They only had to include a single protected draft pick and a nice, but young, big man prospect. If you’re Toronto, you make this deal every time even if there’s risk that Kawhi leaves or is unhappy. The worst that comes from this is losing both Kawhi and DeRozan (via trade) while getting a bit more cap flexibility for a team that was about to be in luxury tax hell for years to come.
I don’t know if this was the Spurs best offer, but the final deal certainly reflects how much leverage they actually had in moving Kawhi. Recent reports stated the Celtics and 76ers had kept all their best assets out of trade offers. The Lakers had, seemingly, shied away from making a deal entirely, if for no other reason than the Spurs asking price being incredibly steep. So, San Antonio got an all-star player back and a big man prospect and a pick that hopefully convenes as a 1st. Not a great haul, but not terrible. I think DeRozan, once he gets over being traded, will do well in San Antonio even if the full roster construction/fit of their best players remains a bit wonky.
Enough about all that, though. You’re reading this because you want to know the Lakers angle and, honestly, I see no downside here for the Lakers.
As I’ve said several times and wrote when discussing who had the leverage in this situation, the Lakers have positioned themselves in a way to maintain their status as boogieman in any future free agency pursuit of Kawhi, which is the best position for them to be in for the long term.
The Lakers have the ability to create max cap space next summer without any other team’s assistance. Kawhi and his representation know this. Other team’s front offices know this. The threat of Kawhi walking into the Los Angeles market is highest with the Lakers (and the Clippers) positioned as they are. This is the Lakers best leverage point and as long as they maintain it, they can posture in any negotiation as if they’re in a position of strength even if, you know, they’re actually the team pursuing the player.
Further, the Lakers understand that there are other max level free agents on the market next summer who are worth signing. For those who point at the Paul George scenario as being a cautionary tale in relation to Kawhi, I actually flip that idea on its head and believe the Lakers will too when thinking big picture. If the George experience taught the Lakers anything it’s not that players can change their minds, it’s that there’s always another guy you can get.
I mean, sure, the Lakers didn’t get Paul George who everyone assumed they would get. But, you know who they did get…LeBron (expletive’ing) James. So, if this summer informed their approach in any way, it’s that there’s always another fish in the sea; there’s always another player you can chase and sign.
Will that be true in this case? I don’t know.
But if I’m Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, I look at a deep free agent class, I look at my roster of LeBron James and young players who I have full faith in becoming good to great in their own right, and I take my chances on the market next summer. If that nets them Kawhi, I’m sure that’s the ideal scenario. But if it also gets them in the room with Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler or Klay Thompson or (a potentially healthy) DeMarcus Cousins or any other top player to make a pitch, I think they’ll happily be on themselves in that scenario too.
One last point — the Lakers, as does the rest of the league, now get to see if Kawhi is healthy and what level he returns to and they get to do that at someone else’s cost. The Lakers did not have to surrender the compensation the Spurs sought to get a first hand look. They do not take on that risk themselves. This may not be the biggest benefit to how this played out, but it’s not the smallest either. Toronto now gets to take on all that risk themselves and every other team in the league will get a chance to observe, from afar, how it goes.
I will add, though, that it’d be silly to not acknowledge that the Lakers are taking a gamble here. LeBron is entering year 16 and has a ton of mileage on him. The argument that they should be trying to optimize their chances of winning a title with LeBron right this second is not lost on me. The the Lakers young guys may not be as good as they hope. LeBron may need a real second star right away. Putting yourself in a position to delay that, purposefully, is a risk and we’ll have to see if it works out in their favor.
But, from where I sit, when looking at what the negotiations with the Spurs were reportedly like, while dealing with a player who just missed (basically) a full season due to injury, and the combination of young talent + LeBron on a long(ish) term contract + the free agent market for the summer of 2019, I think it’s a risk worth taking.