When the Toronto Raptors landed two-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, there were obvious benefits.
Leonard, who is arguably the best two-way player in basketball when he is healthy, brings a ton to Toronto next season. Additionally, the Raptors were also able to land veteran wing Danny Green. Not only is Green a three-point specialist, but he can also add value on defense as well.
Both Leonard and Green are on expiring contracts, however, which is perhaps the best news of all for the front office. While it gives fans in Toronto a year of excitement and a strong team to root for with LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, it sets the Raptors up for a rebuild as well.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Raptors are prepared for a rebuild if Leonard walks as a free agent next summer. It’s a reality that they should be prepared to face, especially considering Leonard reportedly “has no desire” to play in Toronto.
Fortunately for the Raptors, however, the only young assets they gave up in the deal is a protected first-round pick and big man Jakob Poeltel in the deal. This should be seen as a massive victory for executive Masai Ujiri, who was able to retain OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Delon Wright.
This is the young core that was so exciting for the team last season and they could be a good group to build around moving forward. Rather than paying so much money to DeMar DeRozan during a potential rebuild, they can now use that cap flexibility far more wisely.
Toronto was going to pay DeRozan an average of $27.8 million for the next three seasons. Instead, they can have all that money come off the books. Here is how Bobby Marks described their future payroll (via ESPN):
“Toronto will have $101.6M in guaranteed salary and will be over the salary cap based on the team options of Pascal Siakam ($2.4M), Malachi Richardson ($2.6M), OG Anunoby ($2.3M) and $7.6M free agent hold of Delon Wright. The Raptors could create some flexibility if Jonas Valanciunas ($17.6M) and CJ Miles ($8.7M) opt-out of their contract.”
While that’s a lot of money tied up, it would have been significantly more with DeRozan. By the 2020-21 season, Marks notes that the only money on their payroll will be to Norman Powell ($10.9M) and Anunoby ($3.9M) if they do not re-sign Leonard.
They would still have had to pay DeRozan nearly $30 million per season until 2021. As mentioned by former NBA player Eddie Johnson, this trade could be seen as the team “sneakily getting out” of DeRozan’s contract.
It’s a huge victory that Toronto did not have to take on the money owed to Patty Mills, which is roughly $40 million over the next three seasons. Instead, Green will become a free agent and could also be used as a trade chip for another asset before the deadline.
Meanwhile, there is still the possibility that, much like with Paul George in Oklahoma City, Leonard falls in love with the franchise and decides to stay after next season.
No one expected George to remain with the Thunder, as he was reportedly interested in the Los Angeles Lakers. Now in a similar situation, while they are different people with different agendas, the same fate can come of Leonard. Toronto will have the money to make him a huge offer and a season to try to win him over.
If not, and things are soured, perhaps they can trade him for depleted value at the deadline. In that case, they can do it knowing they went all-in and didn’t have to give up their young developing players in the process.