The Kawhi drama is finally over. And holy cow did it end in dramatic fashion. Amazingly the Raptors won the Kawhi lottery and did so in spectacular fashion. Let's break down some thoughts on the trade.
Toronto won this one!
Here's what the Spurs get:
|Player||Position||Age (2019)||2018 Wins Produced||2018 PoP48||Contract Years Left||Average Salary / Yr|
|DeMar DeRozan||SG||29||8.4||+1.5||3||$27.7 million|
|Jakob Poeltl||C||23||7.0||+3.8||2||$3.5 million|
Oh yeah, and a lottery protected first-round pick. It will likely be late first round. And while we do think the value of those contracts is tops in the NBA, it still pales in comparison to what the Raptors get:
|Player||Position||Age (2019)||Wins Produced||PoP48||Contract Years Left||Average Salary / Yr|
|Kawhi Leonard||SF||27||16.2 (2017)||+6.4 (2017)||1||$20 million|
|Danny Green||SF||31||4.3 (2018)||+0.5||1||$10 million|
In the advent of the modern NBA (ABA merger and three-point line), there has not been a team that's won a title without a superstar player. And Kawhi, or should I say "Final MVP" Kawhi, is one of those players. There's a lot to unpack and a lot of what ifs, so let's get to that.
Kawhi's Health is a Big Factor
This is the elephant in the room. Kawhi played a mere nine games last season. And while he played great in those nine games, it's always hard to know how players will come back from injury. That said, I'm slightly less worried about Kawhi than I am about, say, DeMarcus Cousins. First, allegedly Kawhi, when he was playing fine, had been cleared by the Spurs doctors. He was shut down by his doctors, but the belief is this was a power play to get traded. Additionally, the Spurs offered him the supermax in the offseason, meaning, at least in the eyes of their physicians, he was fine. And, ironically, the Raptors are fine there too. Unlike Grant Hill, who was injured and signed a long contract. The Raptors are only committed to one season of Kawhi, kind of, let's get to that.
One Year of Kawhi is Fine!
In 2012, the Denver Nuggets traded for Andre Iguodala. They gave up some marginal role players and some picks. Now, Andre Iguodala only played one season for the Nuggets. In that season the Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 wins and had their best shot in the NBA playoffs in a while. However, Iguodala walked in the offseason, and I've heard some lament the Nuggets gave up all that (Afflalo, Harrington and two picks) for "nothing."
Excuse me, nothing? As Patrick stated recently, a year of star performance is hugely valuable. In fact, he recently noted, the Spurs might have been better off "just" taking a year of Kawhi, which would have given them another shot at a title. If "all" the Raptors get is a year of Kawhi and an increased shot at a title, that's fine. It's funny, in the land of "you have to tank to get a star because you can't win a title without a star", the logic: "gamble for a year of a bonafide star to win a title" isn't viewed as highly. We think it should be. Of course, the Raptors now also hold Kawhi's bird rights, which means they can offer him the best deal when his contract expires too. So it's not even the biggest gamble.
There's another funny point too: even if Kawhi isn't 100%, the Raptors may still win this.
The Raptors get Addition by Subtraction
The Raptors "lost" DeMar DeRozan, who lead the Raptors in scoring last season. And we're onboard saying DeMar DeRozan is an above average player. That said, last season was a career year for DeMar. He's 29, so unlikely to improve, and his peak appears to be a good, not great player. His peak performance is 50% of Kawhi's!
But a funnier note is DeMar's playoff performance. The past several seasons, DeMar DeRozan's regular season True Shooting has been around 55% (which is a little above average for shooting guards). In the playoffs, he has a career average of 49.7%! Last season he shot 51.1% in the playoffs. He shot 47.3% against the 29th ranked defense Cavaliers in the playoffs. The Raptors routinely underperform in the playoffs, and part of this is DeMar's erratic shooting.
The Raptors picked up Danny Green, who is a competent small forward. They have some young players like OG Anunoby, and Delon Wright, who are decently efficient scorers. The ideal world is Kawhi takes over DeMar's shots, but even if he doesn't the Raptors may improve in the playoffs just by moving DeRozan.
Our next point will be pro-Spurs regarding Poeltl, but I also want to note there. While losing Poeltl "hurts," as he is quite productive, it may not sting as much. We love Jonas Valanciunas. Inexplicably, "Coach of the Year" Dwayne Casey, did not. Nick Nurse is allegedly a much bigger fan of Jonas. If Jonas sees an increase in minutes, it will significantly lessen the loss of Poeltl. On that note:
The Spurs did get a good player in Poeltl
There is a super outside shot that in the future this does look like the Grant Hill trade. As a reminder, the Detroit Pistons traded Grant Hill, who was one of the biggest star in the NBA at the time. Seriously, there was an All-Star game he got more votes than Michael Jordan, look it up! He was traded (albeit via a glorified sign and trade) for Ben Wallace. Grant Hill was injured and never the same. Ben Wallace went on to win four Defensive Player of the Year awards and help the Pistons to a title.
It's possible Kawhi never returns to form. It's possible Poeltl, who has put up great per-minute numbers turns into a great full-time player for the Spurs. It's not something I would bet on though. In fact, let's finish this up with our last point.
What the hell Spurs?
We've been homers for the Spurs forever around here. They draft great. Popovich is one of the few coaches that statistically improves players. Traditionally we've scoffed at teams that try to trade with them. Since Tim Duncan retired, the Spurs have let a promising young player walk out the door every season (Boban, Dedmon, and Kyle Anderson), while paying more for veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. This trade is utterly baffling to us. We're excited to see what happens with the Raptors. But honestly, we're a bit sad to see that the Spurs may be done. I hope we're wrong. I hope Poeltl is the star they wanted. I hope DeRozan starts taking threes and turns into a star. I hope they give the Warriors a run. But with how things have been going, my hope is starting to wane.