What the Kawhi Leonard deal means for the teams involved, Celtics, and NBA as a whole

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

The Raptors and Spurs have finalized a trade that sends San Antonio forwards Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto in exchange for forward DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick. Here are some initial thoughts on what this deal means for the teams involved, the Celtics, and the NBA as a whole:

■ Leonard’s health remains a concern — a quad injury held him to just nine games last season — and he will still need to pass a physical before this trade is finalized. As Celtics fans saw last season when Isaiah Thomas’s hip injury disrupted and then delayed the Kyrie Irving trade, this part can become complicated.

■ There already have been suggestions that Leonard is unhappy with the trade. But I would be surprised. Remember, this all started when he actually asked to be dealt from San Antonio. Sure, he wanted to become a Los Angeles Laker, but that’s not really how trades work; that’s how free agency works. And Leonard will have a chance to become a free agent in about 11 months anyway. Also, the Raptors are one of the best teams in the NBA, Toronto is one of the coolest cities in the world, and the organization is one of the most well-respected in the league.

DeMar DeRozan averaged 23.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game last season.
DeMar DeRozan averaged 23.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game last season.Jason Miller/Getty Images

■ However, it is safe to say now that DeRozan is not very happy, because a post on his Instagram account on Wednesday morning indicated just that.


“Be told one thing & the outcome another,” he wrote. “Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing…soon you’ll understand.”

DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were the Raptors’ pillars, helping transform Toronto into a conference power. The forward made the All-Star team in four of the last five seasons and is under contract for the next two years. He has a player option for 2020-21.

■ Losing the security of DeRozan’s contract is the biggest risk for the Raptors. Leonard might ultimately stay true to his goal of playing in Los Angeles and leave the team in a year. At that point, Toronto would have no DeRozan, probably no 2019 first-round pick, and no Poeltl, and that combination would instantly sap the Raptors of most of their powers. Toronto is certainly hoping it can sway Leonard just as the Thunder ultimately swayed Paul George before locking him up with a long-term deal this summer.


■ Appreciation for the Raptors’ spectacular regular season was suddenly — and even understandably — washed away after yet another playoff flameout, this time a four-game sweep against the Cavs in the conference semifinals. But it’s worth remembering that this team won 59 games and finished four games ahead of a Celtics team that had Kyrie Irving for about three quarters of the regular season.

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

■ If Leonard is healthy, this deal absolutely makes Toronto better. And Celtics fans will not love that. But this deal is good for the Eastern Conference, and for the NBA as a whole. The talent disparity between the two conferences was getting massive. Now, the player widely viewed as the third best in the world — when healthy — will re-balance the scales at least a bit. Also, Leonard’s presence will make games against the Celtics and 76ers even more compelling, and that’s a big part of the reason we’re all here in the first place.

■ The Celtics had interest in Leonard, just as they will have interest whenever a top player becomes available. But discussions with the Spurs never really progressed to the point of being serious. Boston is content with its core and better positioned for long-term success than Toronto, so the reluctance to part with a star for a potential rental was understandable.


■ Also, this is your reminder that we should all calm down at least a bit, because the Warriors still exist.

■ It was a win for Toronto to close this deal without giving up either of the players who appear to be its two best young prospects: OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Poeltl has shown promise, though. Last season the second-year big man appeared in all 82 regular season games and averaged 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 65.9 percent from the field.

■ It was a win for the Raptors to get veteran forward Danny Green. Green, 31, was a second-team All-Defense pick just two seasons ago and is a career 39.5 percent 3-point shooter. Like Leonard, he will become a free agent after next season, but it is clear the Raptors are taking a shot at the NBA Finals right now.

Danny Green, who is entering his 10th NBA season, spent eight of his first nine years in the league with the Spurs.
Danny Green, who is entering his 10th NBA season, spent eight of his first nine years in the league with the Spurs.Scott Threlkeld/AP

■ It was a win for the Spurs to get DeRozan. Last season, the Pacers were widely panned for giving up George in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. In retrospect, of course, that deal looks just fine, as Oladipo emerged as an All-Star and Sabonis became a key contributor for Indiana. But in this case, San Antonio unloaded a disgruntled star with an expiring contract and acquired a perennial All-Star who is still just 28 years old and remains under contract for two seasons.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.