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Why Kawhi Leonard Was the Right Gamble for the Raptors

The Raptors' acquisition of Kawhi Leonard was an incredibly shrewd move by Toronto and Masai Ujiri.

News of Kawhi Leonard heading to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan shocked the NBA world on Wednesday but was it a good deal for both teams? Did Masai Ujiri just manage to put the Raptors in a great position for the next year or so? Or will Leonard's time in Toronto mirror his last season with the Spurs? Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss on the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast.

(Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

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Andrew Sharp: How are you holding up with everything that's happening with the Spurs right now? 

Ben Golliver: Look everyone can rest easy, I'm OK, all right, Andrew? I don't get real emotional. This isn't like a Dwight Howard situation for you there in Washington. I think my main takeaway is on the Raptors' side. I mean the Spurs, this is a monumental trade for them. It completely blows up where everyone thought their franchise was going for the next 10 years. It kills a narrative of handing the torch from Robinson to Duncan to Kawhi that had sort of been percolating there for a few years. But I think this trade is actually a much bigger deal from Toronto's perspective.

I love this deal for Masai Ujiri. Not only are you upgrading, obviously, from DeMar DeRozan to Kawhi Leonard, assuming Kawhi is healthy or reasonably healthy. He's a massive upgrade, especially in the playoffs. But you're adding a guy in Danny Green who is also an experienced playoff player, a really quality defensive guy, someone who you can stick on opposing team's point guards in the playoffs for matchups to show them some length. and now you're getting into some really creative lineups where you can play Lowry, Green, Leonard, OG, Pascal.

I think the next move for Toronto is really to get one of those crazy German procedures done on Serge Ibaka because then their team would be really nice, if they could give him that special knee treatment that has been going around in recent years. But even Ibaka regardless, this roster has some nice and modern five-man groups that they can throw out there together. And when you're looking at a team that hit a very hard ceiling in the playoffs the last couple of years and was stuck with some pretty big contracts that looked difficult to move when you had Lowry or DeRozan, to be able to come out of this summer with basically the second- or- third-biggest catch of the entire offseason, without parting with any meaningful part of a champion-type rotation.

I mean DeMar was never really going to be that type of guy. I mean they sat him down in the playoffs because they were better without him. When their entire season was on the line, he was riding the bench and that wasn't like Casey losing his mind, that wasn't a bad decision, that was the right decision. So when you're looking at biggest offseason winners, I put Masai Ujiri right at the top of the list. I like taking the risk. I like trying to coax Kawhi Leonard into making Canada his own—we'll see how that works. But in terms of a short-term move to position for a title, I love it for Toronto. 

Winners and Losers from the Kawhi Leonard Trade

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Sharp: Yeah, I agree with you. I have a number of different angles. I just filed a big winners and losers column, quickly after sort of trying to pick the pieces of my brain off the ground this morning once this finally happened. I like it for Toronto. I do think that there are going to be a lot of real concerns that we can process and talk through once the initial buzz wears off because we haven't seen Kawhi for more than a year. I think, in theory, the roster that you're describing sounds awesome. But it also–Kawhi is the biggest wild card in the league going into next season and that's why the price here was so low. I do think, regardless, as a gamble.

It's clearly a win for Toronto and Masai. The whole problem that they've had over the last few years is that you weren't going to be able to trade DeMar and/or Lowry for anyone that could bring back comparable value.

Like those guys had a lot more value just churning out 50-or-more-win seasons in Toronto than they were gonna have on the open market and this is the exception to that rule. And getting a player that is as awesome as Kawhi is worth it. And if it doesn't work, I feel like this is going to be a bridge to another path that they were considering anyway. When you go back to the sweep, every option was on the table.

People were already talking about whether this team should just blow it up and try to rebuild and that option is still going to be viable 12 months from now, the difference is now you have a super high upside gamble for the next year. And I think that next year's Raptors are more exciting than any of the last four years we've had to talk about. 

Bidding Farewell to the Bromance of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Golliver: Oh, not just the past three or four years, the entirity of their franchise history. I mean I understand why Raptors fans are emotional about losing a guy like DeMar DeRozan—amazing person in the community, amazing ambassador for that organization. I mean he kinda put them on the map, right? But you're trying to build a contender, not build your book club group. You need to have a guy who's going to be able to get it done in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard has been there before, he can shoot in ways that DeMar will never be able to shoot, he's a better isolation scorer. I like the pairing with Lowry. I think they're going to be able to strike the right balance and, theoretically, he's in his prime. To me, Kawhi Leonard, if healthy, is the best player in the history of the Raptors' franchise. 

Sharp: He is, there's no question.

Golliver: From Day 1. So that's just a no-brainer. I mean if there were termites with their feelings hurt, I'm just saying to set the emotion aside and be like very logical and put yourself in Masai's shoes and say, "How often are the Raptors going to be in position to add a top-five NBA player?" And so far, history says they've never been in tha position in their entire franchise. So you better do it.