Last summer, NBA fans were anxious to see another bomb dropped in free agency after Lebron James decided to take his talents to LA. It came from the unlikeliest of places after GM Masai Ujiri decided to swap folk hero DeMar DeRozan for a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard. No one was really satisfied with the trade except for Greg Popovich and the Spurs, who got a great replacement for the former NBA Finals MVP. In Toronto, though, there was little to celebrate, knowing that the Raptors weren’t Leonard’s top pick.
Experts and fans alike expected Kawhi to land in LA or possibly end up in Boston. The Raptors weren’t even namedropped as a potential destination until the last few days before the trade. It was another bold move by Ujiri who took a lot of heat from the majority of the fans who didn’t want their hero DeRozan shipped off. Six months later, the Raptors are at the top of the Eastern Conference and looking better than ever.
A Gamble Worth Taking
Trading a superstar for another superstar is always a gamble. It was especially a gamble in this case. Kawhi was looking for an exit from San Antonio, preferring LA as his destination. He ultimately ended up replacing DeRozan, a true Toronto legend who sadly couldn’t take the team a step further.
Enter Kawhi Leonard. He had a year left on his contract and wasn’t open to the idea of playing in Toronto. Fears of Kawhi being shut down for the season and blaming it on injuries were on every fan’s mind. However, being the professional he is, Leonard has settled in well with the Raptors, making them a powerhouse in the East. As a result, the Toronto Raptors easily matches up against their top rivals in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.
With Lebron heading out West, the path to the top was left wide open for the Celtics. However, Kawhi and the Raptors have emerged as the best team in the conference. It’s not all about the top spot – they are better on defense and offense with Leonard, beating the Warriors twice and their top rivals Celtics once. The defensive versatility The Klaw brings and his ability to be a constant threat on offense may be the piece that will lead the Raptors to the East Finals and beyond.
In the DeRozan era, Toronto was on top of the East or near to it but ultimately fell to James and the Cavs in the playoffs. With Kawhi, they look like a much better all-round team, even drawing praise from Kevin Durant. Six months removed from the shocking trade, Raptors fans are impressed with Kawhi, obsessively watching every one of their team’s games on live sports streaming sites.
A Ray of Hope
Due to the unclear future of Kawhi Leonard in Toronto, fans are hoping that he’ll give it all to bring them to the Finals. After defeating the Warriors twice this season, some consider the Leonard-Lowry duo the antidote to the Bay Area superteam. It’s an idea that’s not so far-fetched if you’ve watched the Raptors play under the lead of new coach Nick Nurse. They can match anyone defensively and Kawhi’s All-Star caliber is making everyone forget about DeRozan super-fast.
As the season draws nearer to the playoffs, whispers about Kawhi’s potential trade destination will surely emerge. The Raptors must not let that affect them. As Durant said after the Raptors handed the Warriors their second loss in just two weeks, the Raptors aren’t an up-and-coming team – they’re already here. If you ask us, fans should just forget about Kawhi’s impending free agency and go with the flow. Or should we say, Klaw?
Patrick Supernaw is the lead editor for Great Lakes Ledger. Patrick has written for many publications including The Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Patrick is based in Ottawa and covers issues affecting his city. In addition to his severe hockey addiction, Pat also enjoys kayaking and can often be found paddling the Rideau Canal. Contact Pat here