Another Blockbuster Win-Win Trade?
Last summer the NBA saw a (seemingly) lopsided trade turn into a win for each team. That trade was the exchange of Victor Oladipo and Damontas Sabonis for Paul George. The Raptors face the same risk that OKC did last year: can they convince Kawhi Leonard to stay in Toronto following the 2018-19 season, or will he be a one-year rental? It won’t work, but isn’t that what everyone told OKC?
The trade sends Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto while the Spurs receive DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a 2019 protected (1-20) pick in return. The deal looks good for both teams on paper, assuming Kawhi decides to play this upcoming season. The Raptors get two one-year rentals, but they are big roster upgrades, particularly on defense where they now have the wings capable of matching up with Boston. Their overall lineup options are a lot more flexible with defensively versatile players like Leonard, Green, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, and even Serge Ibaka. Before the trade, the Raptors had to decide whether to run back the same roster that got swept in Round 2, or try to blow it up and rebuild. This is a win-now trade that gives them a real shot at contending with Boston in the East, and even if it’s for just a year it’s probably worth it. And who knows, maybe there is a 10% chance Kawhi stays. If they go to the Finals that percentage could creep up. Again, all of this assumes Kawhi is healthy for the season and plays. If he isn’t, then the Raptors will be a fringe playoff team in the East and will likely keep their 2019 first round pick thanks to the protection. Worth it.
— The Moderate Spice Blog (@ModerateSpice) July 18, 2018
Meanwhile, the Spurs aren’t rebuilding either — they are ready to contend and this trade allows them to. They receive two controllable players and a 2019 first round pick. San Antonio was a playoff team in a loaded west without Kawhi last year so there is no reason to believe they won’t be even better this year. DeRozan will be inserted directly into the starting lineup and Poeltl is a young, proven bench player who, at 22 years old, should thrive under Pau Gasol’s tutelage. San Antonio could finish as high as the 3-seed in the West this season and should compete for years to come as young guys like Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White, and next year’s two first round picks grow with seasoned players DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. The thing is the Spurs are not just going to compete, they will be darn good. The Spurs now have two reigning All-NBA players in DeRozan and Aldridge, putting them in the same company as the Wolves, Warriors, and Thunder. Combine that level of talent with one of the best coaches in the league, if not the best, and the Spurs might surprise some people. Worth it.
Toronto Might Not Be Done Dealing
Knowing that Kawhi is flight-risk, it would be smart of the Raptors’ front office to at least explore trade opportunities during the season. The Spurs didn’t want to trade to another team in the West, but Toronto isn’t hamstrung in that way. At this point, a rebuild in 2020 looks inevitable. Kawhi, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, and Kyle Lowry, who will be 34, will all be off the books and likely gone. If Kawhi doesn’t work out for the Raptors, use him, your most valuable asset, as a chess piece to jumpstart a rebuild. Tease the Clippers and Lakers into a bidding war. Word has already gotten out that Kawhi would be willing to sit out the entire season. Just after that, a report explained that Kawhi is “warming to the idea” of playing in Toronto:
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 19, 2018
Even if Kawhi decides he doesn’t want to be a La-Z-Boy couch this season and play, the Raptors won’t beat the Warriors and probably wouldn’t beat a healthy Celtics team. The Raptors should keep their options open, before the season and during.
Philadelphia’s Summer Flop
LeBron James contemplated moving to Philadelphia — nope. Paul George sure sounded good next to Embiid and Simmons — didn’t happen. Kawhi Leonard would’ve made them title contenders as well, too bad the Sixers didn’t offer a good enough package. This summer has not gone as planned for Philly. Sure, they managed to bring back JJ Redick for less money and gave away nothing but cash and cap space to get Wilson Chandler, but they lost two key players in Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to free agency and their overall depth does not look good. They attempted to replace Ilyasova with Nemanja Bjelica, but he opted to leave the Sixers to return to Europe. But did he really? Bjelica is reportedly in conversation with the Kings:
Forward Nemanja Bjelica and the Kings plan to begin discussing potential deal, league sources tell Yahoo Sports. Bjelica represents a shooter on the wing/frontcourt, and a long-term fit makes sense.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 18, 2018
Bjelica could be leaving the Sixers, a young promising team, to sign with the Kings (Lol), the Kings! One of the worst teams in the NBA. Luckily the Sixers got involved in the OKC and Atlanta trade to acquire Mike Muscala by sending Justin Anderson to the Hawks and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to OKC. Muscala will seemingly fill in as a backup PF and C to spot up for threes, but that’s still not enough.
The Sixers didn’t attract any top free agents and couldn’t even retain an exception-level contract guy who had already verbally committed. The Sixers window of opportunity to sign a big time free agent is running out. Joel Embiid is signed through 2023 and will make over $29M/year on average. Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Markelle Fultz all have team options after this coming season. Simmons and Saric will be due for much larger paydays, and if Fultz plays the way the Sixers want him to then he will be due for one, as well. Philly is not good enough this year to contend for a title. Their backup shooting guard is Jerryd Bayless, the backup power forward is Ben Simmons, and backup center is Amir Johnson. Chandler is serviceable but old, and his performance declined so much last year that Denver was willing to dump him for peanuts. Their first round pick, Zhaire Smith, is too raw to give significant minutes and he lacks what they need most: shooting. Philadelphia has one more chance next summer to bring in a top free agent, and they better hope they get their guy and avoid another disaster of a summer.
OKC Dumps Melo
Thursday evening the Thunder traded Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala. The deal makes sense for both teams. OKC gets rid of Melo’s awful attitude, save salary and luxury tax money, and gain an experienced (though expensive) point guard. OKC could explore trades for Schroder as well, but the Hawks struggled to shop him. For the Hawks, in a year in which they aren’t competing for a title or even a playoff spot, they can take on Melo’s contract because they know it will roll off the books come next offseason with a loaded free agent class. They clear playing time for newly acquired Jeremy Lin and 5th pick Trae Young. Oh, and they still gain a future first round pick adding to the other first-rounder they gained during the draft. This deal looks solid for both sides.