The Ballad of Kawhi Leonard has come to an end...for now. San Antonio traded their unhappy All-Star forward along with Danny Green to Toronto for All-Star Demarr DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick.
It was an unenviable position for the stalwart but secretive franchise to be in, namely, behind the eight-ball. The Spurs have usually been the ones turning Fools’ Gold into diamonds. But now, there are the ones pawning off their prized possession.
I don’t know what caused this relationship to deteriorate to the extent that it did. But since neither Leonard nor the Spurs have ever said much and still haven’t, I doubt we ever will. I do know, however, neither party is all that happy how it ended.
Leonard painted the Spurs into a corner. He’s on the last year of his contract and his desire to play in Los Angeles was no secret. The Lakers had one big thing on their side: time. Even with LeBron in the fold, there isn’t a need to win now. There is a need for relevance, but the team isn’t quite ready to challenge for a title. Everyone associated with the team knows it. They made a cursory offer to San Antonio just to see if they would bite and get Leonard at their price. They didn’t. But Los Angeles can wait and see if their allure is enough.
The Spurs made lemonade out of their lemons. DeMar DeRosan isn’t quite in the same class of player as Leonard. He can score like Leonard, but isn’t as good a defender or passer. Jakob Poleti is a nice player that nobody knows. The 1st round pick that they got from Toronto will be another fantastic all-around player from an unheralded college. Pairing them up with LeMarcus Aldridge makes them a talented, fundamentally sound, nondescript, and yes, dreadfully boring team that no one outside of San Antonio will pay to watch.
The Raptors are a team that has hit a wall. Their team best 59 wins was more of a result of injuries from the other contenders in the Eastern Conference and they knew it. That’s why they fired Dwane Casey after winning Coach of the Year. That’s why they took a chance trading for Leonard in his walk year. At best, they get him to fall in love with a great city and he becomes their centerpiece to build around. At worst, he pouts and they see if the Lakers’ B-/C+ deal is something they’ll settle for.
"This is basketball," Gregg Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News. "Enduring, I think, is pretty much a misnomer. We're playing a child's game and getting paid for it. Enduring? Just look at the TV and what is going on in the world. There's a lot of people enduring. We're not enduring anything."
He’s right, of course. Popovich lost his wife during the playoffs and all of this is nothing more than players changing addresses. The Spurs will go on, the Raptors will start the courting process, and the Lakers will play the waiting game.
Let’s just call this the intermission for now. The drama of this story is yet to come.