DeMar DeRozan: The Anti-Spurs Player

The Spurs are in a no-win situation with Kawhi Leonard, the relationship was too toxic to rebuild no matter how much trust we had in their infrastructure to find their way back to sunset. Turns out nobody held all the cards in the tug of war between player and organization. Both possessed a sense of entitlement, Kawhi felt he earned the right to be traded to one or the two teams in Los Angeles despite being under contract. The Spurs, feeling betrayed by Leonard’s seemingly out of the blue demands, wanted to stick it to their former franchise cornerstone like Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard did to All-Star Paul George last summer when he sent him to Oklahoma City.

Well, the Spurs won the war of pettiness, sending Kawhi to the 59-Win Toronto Raptors in exchange for superstar DeMar DeRozan and prospect Jakob Poeltl. An irrelevant, heavily protected 1st round pick was tossed in, top-20 for 2019, will convert to second-round picks if not conveyed. Overall, for what the Spurs wanted to accomplish with this transaction they made out as well as you possibly could when given a bad hand. San Antonio didn’t capitulate to the demands of Leonard’s camp, nor did they talk themselves into a three-quarters for a dollar trade that’d surely send them backwards. Most teams when trading a superstar like Kawhi wish to turn the dire situation into a time to rebuild, but seeing as 69-year-old Gregg Popovich is nearing the end of his run he likely wants to take two more shots at contention before riding off into the sunset. It’s his right after all to dictate how he’ll leave the Spurs organization.

Last year, DeRozan was somewhere between top-11 and 15 on my rankings for the 2017-18 season when doing my All-NBA ballot (I don’t have an official vote). He’s a second-tier star, someone under the right circumstances can lead you to 50-plus wins, not somebody you can count on to take you to the promise land. Like Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo and Paul George, they’re hard workers and are A-pluses at specific facets of their respective games. However, you’ll feel when they have hit the brick wall as opposing teams in a seven-game set tend to figure out the one-trick ponies such as DeRozan. Self-proclaiming his game is descendent from an older, simpler time, where cutting to the basket and mid-range shots ruled the NBA. Though an unwilling to shot from three-point range, DeRozan is hardly unable to make it from long distance. His 21.4% 3Prate is among the lowest in his position. Offensively, DeRozan’s found ways to improve on yearly basis, being only 29 I am hopeful Pop can unlock a new part of the All-Stars game we haven’t seen.

Given the lack of spacing on the Spurs roster DeRozan will likely have to venture outside of his comfort zones to produce. LaMarcus Aldridge, while great, is a mid-range savant and will need space to do his work, as will DeMar. Unless Patty Mills takes a leap or Dejonte Murray discovers his jump shot they’ll be little to no spacing on this Spurs team. Rudy Gay is likely to become the team’s de factor starting small-forward with the loss of Kyle Anderson in free agency to the Memphis Grizzlies. Not only does the loss of Kawhi shrink the spacing on the floor, it robs San Antonio of their defensive identity. Their two best players couldn’t defend traffic cones in isolation.

Danny Green may not be a knockdown shooter, but he could still defend his position and beyond. His loss hurts the Spurs more than Kawhi.

This is why I believe we’ll see DeRozan at the three, given he’s a liability against the likes of James Harden and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt, hiding DeRozan on non-scorers like P.J Tucker and Solomon Hill is doable given his 6-7 stature and 6-9 wingspan.

The overall roster for the Spurs remains incomplete, the holes are glaring and are in need of addressing. As currently constructed they are a borderline playoff team, in my opinion because the players don’t fit together. I could be wrong. I’ve learned my lesson when doubting Pop in the past.

I’m excited to see DeRozan in San Antonio, I believe that he can kick his postseason woes under the Spurs tutelage. I can see this mismatch team missing the playoff, but I can also see them riding DeMar and Aldridge to nearly 50-wins and sneaking into the western conference finals by having a top-10 offense and defense, somehow.

Kawhi Leonard: A Long Armed T-Rex

It didn’t matter LeBron James now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was long fed up with this core of players that time and time again proved ineffective when the chips were down. As his competitors reload on talent, the Raptors could not afford to stand idle. The trade for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard pushes all the chips in the middle of the table; if it doesn’t work out then they’ll just rebuild. All this season costs them is a contract many perceived as immovable.

For who on the Raptors is to guard Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, or the non-shooting threat “Point-Forward” Ben Simmons of Philadelphia? Not only does Kawhi Leonard answer that question, the acquisition of fellow Spur shooting guard Danny Green helps. Even though the last three-seasons the 6-6 versatile SG shot just 38.4% from the field, his defense has never wavered when healthy. A lanky 6-10 wingspan gives Green the ability to guard a variety of guards and small-forwards. This is a luxury Toronto’s never had prior.

There are of course many uncertainties that lay in this collection of talented athletes. Can Kyle Lowry, will turn 33 next March, prolong his decline that’s already taken place? His field goal percentage dropped from 46.4 in 2015-16 to 42.7; in the last 39 games of last season Lowry conceivably turned a corner but only raised his shooting percentage 0.1. Points per game down from 22.4 to 16.2, Toronto didn’t have to worry much about that because of dynamic scorer DeMar DeRozan carrying the workload on that end of the floor. New head coach Nick Nurse will have to come to grips that Lowry is not the same player as he was before and that 24-year-old Fred VanVleet is the starting point guard of the future. The sooner he realizes this the better.

Center Serge Ibaka is set to turn 29 in September. Already we’ve seen his decline in block-rate, but I’m more confident in him scrapping together one more quality season than I am in Lowry.

DeMar DeRozan is now a Spur. The most beloved Raptor is gone, thus closing the book on the strongest era of Raptors-basketball to date. This new era isn’t likely to last past this season, but it can be the most fruitful. Toronto’s sights are lower than Boston or Philly’s. All their modest fans want is an NBA Finals game in Canada, doesn’t matter if they are swept by the Warriors in the process. And it’s possible Kawhi gets them there.