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Steve Popper: Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan blockbuster deal makes teams happy, but not the players

UPDATED: Wed., July 18, 2018, 6:29 p.m.

There is a line of thinking in any sport, that a trade that makes both sides happy is the best one – even if no general manager really wants the other side to be happy when it’s all over. So what do we think of a blockbuster deal where neither of the key pieces are happy?

The San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors agreed to a deal in principle, according to reports, that will send disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard north of the border, along with Danny Green in exchange for – I checked, this is a word – gruntled Raptors star DeMar DeRozan, along with Jacob Poetl and a protected first-round pick.

Leonard wanted to direct his future to Los Angeles and instead finds himself in Toronto. DeRozan, a Los Angeles native, opted to stay in Toronto in free agency and dedicated himself to the franchise. After he was reportedly assured by Masai Ujiri that he would not be dealt, DeRozen was informed overnight by the Raptors GM that he was the centerpiece of the deal.

So no one is happy.

Except.

In a players league, this isn’t about the players. The Raptors saw themselves as a team at a dead end, having invested heavily in DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, only to fall short in the postseason regularly. They fired beloved head coach Dwane Casey and replaced him with Nick Nurse, but now with the Celtics and Sixers rising as powerhouses in the Eastern Conference, but LeBron James finally out of the way, added a top-five player in the NBA in Leonard along with experienced three and “D” standout Danny Green.

If they can sell Leonard on Toronto – a great city with a great fan base – like they did with DeRozan, you have a star piece in place. If they can’t, they can either try to swap him out to his preferred destination or clear cap space for next year’s free agent chase.

In San Antonio they remove Leonard, who has taken a more precipitous drop than just about any player, not in skill, but in sensibility. He sat out nearly all of last season with injury, but battling with the organization as it wore on. There has just been no player during Greg Popovich’s tenure in San Antonio who was as at odds with the team like this and Leonard seemed bound for the same sort of lifetime love affair that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and even as he departed this summer Tony Parker held with the organization.

With Popovich heading toward the end of his era, starting to talk about retirement as Parker has gone, Ginobili is on his last legs and all of the magic seems to have begun to slip out like a slow leak, DeRozan keeps them relevant. They still seem somewhere behind the Warriors and Rockets in the West, but at least they avoid a full rebuild.

The teams may be happy, or at least content, this morning. But the players? Not today.

What’s next? Do the Raptors try to win Leonard’s heart over? Or does Ujiri make a call to the Lakers and see how quickly they’d like to add Leonard to his preferred location, next to LeBron James? It’s worth watching and for the Lakers, probably worth waiting, as there is no history to tug at Leonard’s heart in free agency, freeing him to head to his happy place.

That is if there is a happy place for Leonard anymore. Today though, we know he is not there.


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