- How high is the Raptors' ceiling with Kawhi Leonard? The Open Floor podcast debates where Toronto is the second-best team in the East after its blockbuster trade with San Antonio.
While LeBron James's decision to join the Lakers will undoubtedly serve as this summer's biggest headline, the offseason's biggest surprise came Wednesday with the Spurs shipping Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan. While a trade was long expected, Kawhi's new home came as a bit of a surprise, with Toronto electing to roll the dice on a potential rental and shaking up the core of their franchise.
Toronto is coming off its best season in franchise history, but a second-round sweep via Cleveland has led to sweeping changes. The team fired Dwane Casey despite being voted Coach of the Year. And now it's ushered out the team's all-time leading scorer after another All-Star campaign.
Will Masai Ujiri's bold moves be rewarded? Or will they fall flat? On the newest episode of Open Floor, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss Toronto's ceiling with Kawhi and where the Raptors will finish in the East this season.
Subscribe and listen to the Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Andrew Sharp: Do you think right now that the Raptors are the second-best team in the East? Do you think Kawhi puts them over the Sixers?
Ben Golliver: Yes, I do. And I think if you’re a Raptors fan, your answer is: “We were already ahead of the Sixers.”
Sharp: I actually think that’s fair. What I was saying on the podcast earlier this week was that I think the Sixers have the second-highest upside in the East, but I could see them finishing like fourth in the East and still being the scariest team in the playoffs outside of Boston.
Golliver: Yeah, they’re deep. They have a lot of really good players. I’m wondering what it’s going to look like with the coaching transition, but I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be a step back because so many of the faces are returning. And I think the upside of Kawhi, sniping against all these Eastern Conference wings that are just trash is very, very high. The best-case scenario for Toronto is that they are the No. 1 seed in the East and Kawhi is an MVP candidate. That is on the table. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but I think more realistically he’s starting for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, they’re the No. 2 seed, they have a very, very good defense and they have a strong offense.
And I think the good part for them is that this trade does get rid of an awful lot of baggage that had been pent up these last couple of years. Firing Dwane Casey was one sort of move to change the culture, but if you bring back all the same players you’re going to have the same questions hanging over you the entire time. And there was no reason for anyone to believe that they were going to get over the hump with the same group. Boston is better than them and they’re more of a playoff team than Toronto. I think this move ditches all of DeRozan’s baggage. Yes, it welcomes a new type of baggage with whatever Kawhi is bringing with him, but I think the time for major change was immediately following that sweep. That was such an embarrassing, disgraceful performance from a team that had such an great regular season and really thought the world of itself. I think, Masai Ujiri was very calculating in realizing the team had to make fundamental changes to this group. He got rid of a contract I don’t like with DeRozan, he upgrades the roster, he adds depth by getting two players who can give you playoff minutes.
To me, Raptors fans should be elated. Get over the DeRozan stuff as quickly as possible and be happy here.
Sharp: It’s a huge win and we’re all rooting for this to work, because if it works that means Kawhi is the same player he was two years ago and that’s a win for the whole league. Hopefully, good things happen in Toronto.