With the Eastern Conference up for grabs, the Toronto Raptors are reportedly in the late stages of a high-risk/high-reward trade that would exchange DeMar DeRozan for San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported about 5 a.m. Wednesday that both players were aware of the discussions. It’s a gamble for both teams, but much more for the Raptors: Leonard, who grew up in Southern California, has repeatedly been linked to a desire to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. DeRozan, who is also from Southern California, has established deep roots in Canada’s only NBA city and appeared to lash out in an early-morning Instagram posting.
“Can’t trust ‘em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing ... Soon you’ll understand ... Don’t disturb,” DeRozan’s authorized account stated.
The Raptors had the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference last season at 59-23 but was swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who went on to lose the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors. Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fired after the season, replaced by one of his assistants, Nick Nurse.
Earlier this month, superstar LeBron James decided to sign in free agency with the Lakers. That means James’ dominance in the Eastern Conference — his teams (either in Miami or Cleveland) have advanced to the last eight NBA Finals — is over.
The Raptors are competing with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers to be in prime position for a run to the finals.
Leonard, a 6-foot-7 small forward, has averaged 16.3 points and 6.2 rebounds over his seven seasons with the Spurs. He is a two-time All-Star and one of the best two-way players in the NBA when healthy. However, he played only nine games last season with a right quad injury. Leonard’s relationship has broken down with the Spurs, who have been as harmonious a basketball operation as any in the NBA.
DeRozan, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard, has been a fixture with the Raptors, averaging 19.7 points in nine seasons for the team that drafted him back in 2009.
The contrast in the two contract situations is major and illustrates the risk the Raptors may accept. DeRozan is under contract each of the next three seasons at nearly $28 million per season. In contrast, Leonard’s current contract obligates him only to the coming season (at about $20 million). Leonard can opt out of the 2019-20 season to become an unrestricted free agent, a significant factor in the Spurs’ receptiveness to a trade.