The San Antonio Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard (along with Danny Green) to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick, a move that most observers view as a massive sell low.
But now we are getting a better picture of the reasoning behind the move.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown and Philadelphia 76ers stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were never even discussed in trade talks with San Antonio. Lowe’s report indicated the Celtics would not discuss Brown without assurances from Leonard that he would stay in Boston long-term. Meanwhile, the Sixers considered Simmons and Embiid complete nonstarters in trade negotiations.
That left the Spurs with few options. The Sixers were reportedly willing to offer a package that included Robert Covington, Dario Saric and the Miami Heat’s 2021 pick, but that deal never gained any traction. Toronto became seemingly the only suitor as the weeks wore on.
“[Leonard] was a hard worker all the time and we wish him well but at this point it’s time to move on,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters. “In no way, shape or form does it do good to go back in time and talk about A, B and C. It’s time to move on.
“At this point my main interest is to not look back. … I’m thrilled to have DeMar and Jakob join us, from this point on that’s where my focus will be,” he said. “I’m not interested in talking about the past.”
The reasoning behind the Sixers’ and Celtics’ reluctance is obvious. Leonard and his camp have consistently maintained the All-Star forward wants to play in Los Angeles, specifically for the Lakers. With no assurances he would be around long-term, no team with an enticing package of young players would have any reason to part with them.
The Raptors, meanwhile, got out from under DeRozan’s contract and moved on from an era that was beginning to stale. Their top seed in the East last season led to yet another failure in the playoffs, and it was likely time for a shakeup.