There are lopsided trades, in which one team is the clear winner and the other is left sifting through the rubble of what's left behind. There are win-win trades, in which both sides achieve their objectives - one side gets an established star, say, and the other gets a budding young player and a couple of draft picks. There are lose-lose trades, too, when injuries and/or disappointment torpedo the trading partners' plans.
Every once in a while, there is a nuclear trade. Those go beyond the lose-lose type. Those are the trades in which not only do both sides lose, but both sides risk winding up hobbled as an organization.
Toronto had the four elements the Spurs most need in a trading partner in order to achieve what the organization sees as a fair return for Leonard: a tradable All-Star; they have some promising youngsters; they are not the Lakers, the Spurs' longtime West rival; and they have just the right level of desperation.
Toronto won a franchise-high 59 games last year, then flamed out in the playoffs (again), swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the conference semifinals. Coach Dwane Casey took the fall for that flop, and the team promoted assistant Nick Nurse to the lead coaching role.
That's the only other real change the team has made. The Raptors roster is much the same as it was last year, including the hefty salary of Kyle Lowry (two years, $64 million). There's also the two years and $45 million remaining for forward Serge Ibaka, who was not much of a factor during Toronto's postseason.
Even if Leonard happily returned to his Defensive Player of the Year and MVP candidate form, the Raptors only would be guaranteed a top-three spot in the East. Boston would figure to still be the favorite. The Sixers would be in the mix with the Raps for the No. 2 seed. A ticket to the Finals and a justification for the Casey firing does not come sealed with a Leonard deal.
What does come sealed, no matter how things go in Toronto, is his exit next summer. Leonard wants to be in LA, and he is going to get there one way (Spurs trade to the Lakers this summer) or another (he slogs through this year and signs with the Lakers next summer). The Raptors would have given up DeRozan and the young players and picks they'd need for a rebuild for one year of Leonard.
What's worse is that a Leonard-DeRozan deal doesn't make a lot of sense for the Spurs, either, other than getting back a player who will keep the franchise within shouting distance of the playoffs for a couple of years. The Raptors have done well to adjust their team to DeRozan's inability to make 3-pointers - he is a career 28.9 percent shooter from the arc.
DeRozan made a real effort to improve his perimeter shooting last year, and after a decent start, he wound up back at 31.2 percent by year's end, and 28.6 percent in the playoffs. He turns 29 in August, and is entering his 10th season in the NBA. If he has not gotten the 3-pointer down by this point, he's not going to suddenly find it.
The Spurs are not a volume 3-point team, but Gregg Popovich values getting players into the right spots and maximizing accuracy. The team fell off to 26th in 3-point percentage last year, but they'd ranked in the top six for seven straight years before that, and were first in the league four times.
A pairing of DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge would give San Antonio two stars who combined to shoot 30.8 percent from the 3-point line last season. Both guys operate best in the high post/midrange. There's enough talent to get them to 45 wins or so, but it's not a successful mix in the modern NBA playoffs, should San Antonio get that far.
But more than just perimeter shooting, the Spurs needed to come out of a Leonard trade prepared to start over, prepared to rebuild, prepared to be bad for a year or two. DeRozan is counterproductive in that respect. The team needs draft picks and a player or two to develop, and the only real shot at getting that will come in a deal with the Lakers - heck with what conference they're in or whether the Spurs brain trust finds LA historically objectionable.
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