The early returns are in, and we now have a winner from the summer blockbuster trade between San Antonio and Toronto.
Both sides look victorious.
Sometimes, trades really can benefit all parties involved – and this already looks to be one of those. Kawhi Leonard looks healthy again and has been fantastic in his first three games with the unbeaten Raptors (4-0), averaging 25.7 points and 9 rebounds per game. DeMar DeRozan is averaging 29.3 points and 9 assists for the Spurs, with a career-high 14 of those assists coming in Monday’s overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Remember all those questions over the summer? Will Leonard like Toronto? Will DeRozan embrace the Spurs?
Asked and answered – so far.
There’s still virtually an entire season left to play, but neither Leonard nor DeRozan is showing any sign of unhappiness right now. And that’s why both teams – for now, at least – can say the trade was a very good idea.
Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) celebrates a basket against the Charlotte Hornets with teammate Kawhi Leonard (2) during first-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
The bigger risk was taken by Toronto, who gave up an All-Star in DeRozan for a former (and now probably current) MVP candidate in Leonard who missed almost the entirety of last season with a leg injury that turned into one of the NBA’s top mysteries of 2017-18. Leonard got a game off for maintenance last week, and his Spurs and Raptors teammate Danny Green – part of the trade as well – says he’s still going to get better.
“He’s still not back to where he normally is, but he’s getting glimpses of it,” Green said. “He’s starting to get back to himself, get into his rhythm. And you know, he usually doesn’t miss many shots.”
Green said it might not be until December that Leonard is back to his old form.
That must be a terrifying sentiment to opponents. Leonard is shooting 46 percent, or only about 3.5 percent down from what he did during his tenure in San Antonio.
DeRozan is shooting 44 percent, basically right in line with his numbers from Toronto. Granted, again, it’s early, but his scoring numbers are way up so far – and so are his assists, which is particularly vital to the Spurs since they lost two point guards before the season started with injuries. Dejounte Murray will not play this season because of a torn ACL, and Derrick White has heel pain that still has him sidelined.
So DeRozan is taking up the slack.
“He’s a competitor,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
This could have gone bad for both clubs. If Leonard wasn’t healthy or wasn’t back to at least close to his former self, Masai Ujiri would be hearing it in Toronto. If DeRozan hadn’t snapped out of his post-trade funk – he acknowledged that he wasn’t happy how things went down, though never badmouthed the Spurs organization – then San Antonio would have been in a very unfamiliar place.
Thing is, this deal was destined to work from a personality sense.
The Spurs love guys who talk on the floor and say very little off the court – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, David Robinson, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Popovich, even Leonard. DeRozan didn’t exactly need training on that front; he’s always leaned toward the quiet side.
Leonard hasn’t gone loquacious now that he’s in Toronto, but he brings something they needed – besides super-elite talent on the court. The Raptors have long embraced the ‘nobody respects us’ approach, bristling over the years about things as silly as Chris Bosh saying the city didn’t have great cable TV and media members complaining about how bitterly cold it was there for All-Star weekend in 2016.
This season for the Raptors is about winning, and winning over Leonard. They need him to stay and not depart as a free agent for this to truly have worked out. This is their chance, once and for all, to prove that top players will think about going to Toronto instead of escaping Toronto.
“The narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone. I think that’s old, and we should move past that,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said last month. “Believe in this city. Believe in yourselves. First of all, here in Toronto, we have to believe in ourselves, right?”
It was his belief that made the trade happen.
And you can be certain the Spurs and Raptors both believe they got the better of the deal at this point.
Thing is, they’re both right.
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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward Johnathan Williams defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Spurs won 143-142. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)