Just when the NBA world thought the craziness of July was over, the San Antonio Spurs decided to trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round draft pick.
It was a trade that surprised many, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, it in some sense was an opportunity lost. They were among the teams reportedly engaged with the Spurs in trade talks, though were recently said to have taken a step back.
Los Angeles is believed to have confidence in their ability to sign Leonard outright as a 2019 free agent, and his joining Toronto doesn’t appear to have dampened that.
Meanwhile, one of the big storylines of the offseason has been the growing disparity between the Eastern and Western Conferences after LeBron James signed with the Lakers.
Leonard going east certainly makes him one of the conference’s top players, but it also helps to relieve that disparity at the top. The Raptors, for next year at least, have placed themselves in the discussion with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
One player who finds the trade particularly good for basketball is Lakers star Kyle Kuzma. In an interview on the ESPY’s Red Carpet, Kuzma explained why he believes Leonard getting traded to the Raptors is positive:
“I think it’s good for the NBA. Toronto, already a good team, and to have a chance to add a top-three player and really spice up the East a little bit, it’s definitely good for the NBA.”
As always with Lakers players and staff, Kuzma had to be careful. He joked about not wanting to say too much and possibly receiving a tampering fine, but his point still stands.
The Leonard trade, while surprising, shows that teams in East aren’t satisfied with simply getting by. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri made a bold move in the hopes that, much like the Paul George situation, Leonard can be convinced to re-sign.
So whether Leonard remains in Toronto or eventually heads to Los Angeles, this trade makes this season’s Eastern Conference just a little more intriguing.
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