NBA

Toronto Raptors roll the dice on Kawhi Leonard by sending DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio Spurs in blockbuster trade

Jay Asser 18/07/2018
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Kawhi Leonard looks to be on his way out of San Antonio.

The Kawhi Leonard situation has finally reached a resolution.

The San Antonio Spurs have traded Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round draft pick, according to ESPN.

The first-round pick is protected 1-20 and will become two second-round selections if it isn’t conveyed next year.

Leonard, a Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, has reportedly been clear about his intention to join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency next summer, essentially making him a one-year rental for the Raptors.

DeRozan, meanwhile, was told by the Toronto front office during summer league in Las Vegas that he would not be traded, according to ESPN.

Unsurprisingly, neither Leonard or Derozan “is expressing enthusiasm for the deal”, according to EPSN’s report.

As word circulated of the Spurs and Raptors finalising a trade, DeRozan voiced displeasure on his Instagram story, where he wrote: “Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing…”

A four-time All-Star and member of the All-NBA Second Team this past season, DeRozan gives the Spurs an immediate star replacement for Leonard.

Unlike Leonard, he’s still under contract for the next two seasons at $27.7 million annually, while having a player option for 2020-21 for the same amount.

DeRozan isn’t on the same level as Leonard, who is a top-five player when healthy, but he would allow San Antonio to remain relatively competitive in Gregg Popovich’s final years as a coach before retiring.

The Spurs also get a rotation big in Poeltl, who averaged 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in his second season.

The draft pick will almost surely turn into two second-rounders as Toronto are expected to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference after upgrading from DeRozan to Leonard – if he’s healthy – following a season in which they won 59 games to earn the top seed.

That Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri managed to improve the team’s outlook for next season – and potentially beyond if Leonard re-signs – without surrendering one of their young players, namely OG Agunoby, makes the trade a worthwile gamble.

Agunoby, who was a vital cog in the Raptors’ starting five as rookie this past season, would have given San Antonio a young wing to build around for the future.

His inclusion may have been a deal-breaker for Toronto without any assurances that Leonard will re-sign next summer.

Wiping DeRozan’s substantial contract off the books while bringing in Leonard for only one season isn’t the worst outcome for the Raptors, but losing a promising two-way talent like Agunoby in the process would sting.

In a vacuum, Leonard would be more than worth it, but his desire to play for the Lakers and the shroud of mystery surrounding his injury makes him a massive unknown at the moment.

Still, the trade gives the Raptors the much-needed shake-up they’ve been seeking after their season came to a disappointing end once again.

After being knocked out with ease by the Cleveland Cavaliers the past three postseasons, Toronto may finally have a path to the Finals with LeBron James now a Laker.

Like the Oklahoma City Thunder tried to do (and succeeded) with Paul George, the Raptors will attempt to sell Leonard on their culture, their city and their ability to field a team that can contend for the title.

However, there’s a small chance – as miniscule as it is – that Leonard chooses to sit out the season. That seems inconceivable for a player who is in the prime of his career and is due to earn $20.1 million, but Leonard only played in nine games for San Antonio this past season despite reports the Spurs had cleared him to get back on the court.

With the way Leonard and his camp handled this past season, how he’ll respond now as a member of the Raptors is unpredictable.

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NBA

Jabari Parker is a risk worth taking for Chicago Bulls

Jay Asser 16/07/2018
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Jabari Parker joined the Bulls on a two-year deal.

Jabari Parker remains one of the most enigmatic players in the NBA and the Chicago Bulls are eager to find out one way or the other if he can be something close to a star.

After waiting around as a restricted free agent this summer, Parker was finally snatched up by the Bulls, who handed him a two-year, $40 million deal that wasn’t matched by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Initially, the contract looks a little too rich for a player with Parker’s track record – namely his injury history (145 games missed over four years) and inconsistent play when he’s been on the floor.

However, the second year of Parker’s contract is a team option, meaning there’s very little downside for Chicago, who had cap space to burn this offseason and weren’t filling it with a star anyways. That cap space could have instead been used to soak up undesired contracts from other teams in exchange for draft picks, but it’s possible none of those hypothetical assets could turn out better than Parker.

If Parker blossoms in a new environment, the second year of the deal will be more than worth it. If he struggles or suffers a significant injury again, the Bulls can walk away after a year knowing they at least tried to unearth a gem.

For a team in Chicago’s position – near the bottom of the league and in desperate need for more talent – Parker is exactly the type of player worth taking a gamble on.

He’s only 23, came into the league as a highly-touted prospect and has shown enough flashes over four years to be considered a promising player.

While he’s below average defensively, Parker has all the tools to be an offensive force, as he showed two seasons ago when he averaged 20.1 points on 49.0 per cent shooting. His 3-point efficiency has also improved every year as he shot 38.3 per cent last season.

The problem for the Bulls is Parker should be deployed as a power forward, not a small forward, which is what he’ll likely play a lot of in Chicago’s lineups next to Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

Parker isn’t all that quick or rangy as a three, but at the four he can create mismatches on the offensive end. He also struggles to stay in front of athletic wings defensively, which is why having him cover power forwards makes him less of a liability.

If nothing else, Parker has an opportunity to put up stats on a relatively bad team, meaning he could potentially force his way onto the All-Star team in the weaker Eastern Conference.

The upside is he continues to get better and turns into a foundational piece for Chicago, who are also betting on Zach LaVine after giving him a four-year, $78 million deal.

The Bulls aren’t expected to be good just yet, but they’ll surely be interesting.

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NBA

Brooklyn Nets trade Jeremy Lin in series of shrewd moves to continue patient rebuild

Jay Asser 14/07/2018
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Nets general manager Sean Marks has put Brooklyn in a good position.

Sean Marks is steadily turning the Brooklyn Nets’ ship around with smart move after smart move.

Despite taking on the general manager job with hardly anything to work with back in 2016, Marks has worked to put the Nets in a favourable position for the future.

On Saturday, Brooklyn made two more transactions to improve their outlook.

First, they traded Jeremy Lin, a 2025 second-round pick and the right to swap second-round picks in 2023 to the Atlanta Hawks for a 2020 second-round pick via the Portland Trail Blazers and the rights to 2016 second-round pick Isaia Cordinier, according to ESPN.

By moving off of Lin’s contract, the Nets cleared $12.5 million in cap space, which paved the way for them to make their next trade with the Denver Nuggets.

Brooklyn agreed to take on the $21 million combined salary of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur while netting a 2019 protected first-round pick (protected 1-12) and a 2020 second-round pick for their troubles. In return, Denver received Isaiah Whitehead.

The move is essentially a salary dump by the Nuggets, who will now save $43 million in payroll and luxury tax.

Faried and Arthur had struggled for playing time in Denver’s crowded frontcourt, but the Nets should be able to get more use out of the forwards this coming season before they hit free agency next summer.

Not only did Brooklyn get a first-round pick, but two serviceable players in the short term, all without cutting into their 2019 cap space, which could be enough for two max contract players.

The price for that was Lin, who was arguably the Nets’ most recognisable player and a favourite of Brooklyn minority owner Joseph Tsai, who wrote in a tweet after the trade: “I love Jeremy Lin because he represents the underdog in all of us – truly first class on and off the court.”

Still, the Nets have slowly, but surely, restocked their cupboard and set themselves up to become a lot better, potentially soon.

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