DeMar DeRozan gave the city Toronto his everything. He is also arguably the first star player to commit long-term with the Toronto Raptors. He was the face of the franchise. His Compton background and attitude were beloved by fans across the country of Canada.
Thanks to the leadership and talent of DeRozan (and company), the last five years have been the best five-year stretch in franchise history. A run that has seen the Raptors make an Eastern Conference Finals for the first time and win four playoff series (after winning just one playoff series in the teams first 18 years of existence).
Even so, Toronto’s decision to trade DeRozan on Wednesday was the smart one, all things considered. Let’s examine why.
Trading DeMar DeRozan Was the Right Move For the Toronto Raptors
One would think that with LeBron James out of the picture in the Eastern Conference that this would be the chance for the Raptors to take over the East. As a matter of fact, the Raptors have won their last four playoffs series against teams that aren’t the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.
Although DeRozan has helped lead the Raptors to regular season success, his game has struggled to translate in the playoffs.
Tim Micallef of Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid pointed this out on Twitter Wednesday afternoon:
Separating passion from facts…here is why DeMar DeRozan was dealt:
1) Over the last 5 seasons…DeRozan's numbers in PPG, RPG, FG%, 3PT%, APG, and PER…ALL went down in the playoffs.
2) DeRozan's salary next 3 seasons: 2018-19: $27.7M, 2019-20: $27.7M, 2020-21: $27.7M
— Tim Micallef (@tim_micallef) July 18, 2018
While Micallef makes a good point, allow me to counter with my initial thoughts on the trade:
This'll give the Raps a one year window to make the NBA Finals. Once the year is done, Kawhi walks and Lowry is an expiring contract in 2019-2020. Raps move him and retool going forward.
Saving millions of dollars on shedding Lowry and Derozan. https://t.co/3PoPlTScoU
— Luke Bellus (@lukebellus4) July 18, 2018
There is a giant caveat to what I’m about to say. And that is that Leonard has to show up in Toronto and be the Kawhi Leonard we all know he can be.
And if that’s the case, then the Raptors just got a massive upgrade for this season. He will be looking to prove to the league (mainly, the two teams in L.A.) that he is still a top-five player in this league. His defence and three-point shooting translate to success come the post-season and he has had success in the playoffs in the past.
Plus, Leonard brings a championship pedigree. He’s been there and done that, something no one on the Raptors could say until now.
This trade has given Toronto a legitimate shot in the East this year, and the team still managed to keep its young core intact.
Down the Line
The main thing that this trade does is free up money for the Raptors in the future. DeRozan is under contract until 2021 and he will be making $27.7 million per year until then. That’s a lot of money to pay someone to be the best player on a team that is only the third-best in the EasternConferencee.
So, by moving DeRozan, and by bringing in the expiring contracts of Leonard and Green, the Raptors have set themselves up for the 2019-20 season. That’s a season in which Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas will all have expiring deals and could be moved for assets.
The trading of DeRozan (for a star who has no interest in re-signing with them) shows that this management team believes in its young core and wants to build around them. This trade will allow the Raptors to maintain all of their young players, stay out of the tax, and retool on the fly. That’s instead of playing out the string with DeRozan and Lowry and having to rebuild once they leave.
Flipping Leonard For Assets?
One other thing that can happen with this Leonard situation is moving him during the season. Perhaps Leonard starts the season with Raptors and shows that he is back to himself, and the Lakers decide that they want to try to win a title in year one with LeBron James. The Raptors could flip Leonard and get a solid return for him. That seems to be an unlikely scenario, though.
It’s never easy seeing your team’s star player get traded, especially after so many years. But for the Raptors organization, this trade made too much sense down the line to pass up.