If you’re still adjusting to the NBA blockbuster trade sending Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Raptors with DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick going to the Spurs, imagine how the two most significant players feel.
Leonard? Apparently he doesn’t like it.
DeRozan? He’s upset about it.
With big egos and bigger salaries in play, there’s a chance all the pieces have yet to reach their final destinations. But assuming this was a straight up swap and everyone is staying put on their respective new teams, the key question in Minnesota becomes this: How does the trade potentially impact the Timberwolves. Here are two that I can think of:
1) When putting together potential Andrew Wiggins trade scenarios — more of a thought exercise at this point since the Wolves have given no indication they are thinking about dealing him — two of the more intriguing options were swaps with the Spurs for the disgruntled Leonard and the Raptors for DeRozan. With this trade on the books and the offseason meandering into mid-to-late-July, the opportunity for a Wiggins deal this summer seems less and less likely.
That said, it could clear the path for an eventual Wiggins trade to the Raptors if Leonard leaves in free agency next summer. Freed of both DeRozan’s rich long-term deal and Leonard’s looming mega-contract, Toronto could make a play to bring Wiggins back to Canada.
2) This is a rare trade where I’m not sure which team got significantly better — a notion reinforced by ESPN’s trade machine earlier today, which said they trade kept both teams’ expected win total flat (the trade no longer works because rosters have been updated).
When healthy, Leonard is the best player in the deal. Usually the team getting the best player wins the trade. But his health and long-term commitment are in question.
DeRozan is a capable scorer, but he’s not a great three-point shooter, his defense is questionable and he’s disappeared in the postseason. He has two years (and a third player option year) left on a deal paying $27.7 million a season.
Green is a useful wing. Poeltl is a useful big man. Maybe the 2019 first-round pick is the tiebreaker, but that won’t help San Antonio next year and might never help them.
In the long run, San Antonio looks less formidable than it would if they had a healthy, happy Leonard on a long-term deal.
But this much is known: The Spurs were 47-35 last season, with Leonard playing just nine games because of a calf injury and lingering fallout from it. They were 42-31 without him and 5-4 with him. Having 70-80 games of DeRozan (average of 9 to 10 win shares each of the last three seasons) instead of nine games of Leonard makes the Spurs better.
That means if you were counting on the Spurs (even after losing Tony Parker) falling apart in the West, those notions are on hold. The Spurs roster combined with Gregg Popovich’s coaching is plenty good to win 45-50 games again.
Having a team slide down could be important to the Wolves — who were also 47-35 last season — because the Lakers added LeBron, the Nuggets (who missed the playoffs at 46-36) should be just as good again and there are only so many playoff spots to go around.
It took 47 wins to make the playoffs in the West last year. It might take just as many, if not more, in 2018-19. That puts even more pressure on Tom Thibodeau and the Wolves in a critical season.