A MODEST PROPOSAL ...
BLOW IT ALL UP IF KAWHI DOESN'T WORK OUT
Toronto is the biggest wild card in the NBA. If Kawhi Leonard is committed, the Raptors could challenge Boston in the East. If Leonard is on autopilot until he can bolt for Los Angeles, then the trade for him—though forever justifiable—will end up meaning nothing.
With Leonard, the Raptors' ceiling is considerably higher than its DeMar DeRozan--led teams. He is a massive upgrade, and Danny Green, who also came from San Antonio in the trade, is a valuable piece, particularly for the postseason. But if things go the other way? That's when the Raptors could get spicy.
Let's say the Raptors hover around the four-seed and never quite threaten the East's elite. If that's the case, the Raptors need to think about moving Leonard and Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline.
Here was the hidden beauty of the Leonard trade: Even if he leaves after one season, the move allowed Toronto to get out from under DeRozan's contract—which has three years and $83.2 million left—and start building the next iteration of a contender. If Leonard doesn't work out, he and the 32-year-old Lowry (who is signed for two more seasons) could fetch useful pieces to put around an already promising core.
COACH NICK NURSE
2017--18 RECORD: 59--23
PREDICTION: Lose 2nd round
PG KYLE LOWRY (23 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])
SG DANNY GREEN [NEW ACQUISITION]
PF SERGE IBAKA (78 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])
C JONAS VALANCIUNAS (63 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])
SF KAWHI LEONARD [NEW ACQUISITION] (12 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])
Leonard is more than just a thief. His defensive rating has been under 100 in four of his six full seasons and he has been All-NBA on D four times.
SF OG ANUNOBY
PF PASCAL SIAKAM
C GREG MONROE [NEW ACQUISITION]
(*) NEW ACQUISITION
(#) SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP TORONTO
IF HE is in top form, the deal [sending DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for KAWHI LEONARD] is a damn good trade. DeMar's a really good player and his midrange game is unreal, but Kawhi fits what Toronto is all about. A two-way player. What can't he do? Is he that much better than DeMar? Yes. People forget how dominant he can be. Off-the-dribble, catch-and-shoot. He's unreal. He's probably the best defender on LeBron in the league, and you're going to have to deal with Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward and Ben Simmons and Victor Oladipo.... The underrated thing is their bench is a year older and a year wiser. They're a really well-rounded team if they can get 20 or 30 points out of their bench on a nightly basis.... KYLE LOWRY'S expiration is coming, though. We're getting to the point where you wonder how much mileage he has left in the tank. It gets tougher and tougher to keep up with conditioning, and obviously he's not a slim guy. He's kind of built herky-jerky. You always wonder at what point in guys' careers are they going to go down? You naturally wonder when that'll happen.... I don't know if the fit's ideal, with SERGE IBAKA and JONAS VALANCIUNAS. They're both pretty good in a vacuum, and they had some success with Ibaka at the five. They even used OG ANUNOBY a little at the four last year. They have a lot of versatility they can utilize in their lineups, so I think they can maximize those bigs.