With the Kawhi Leonard saga finally resolved, it feels like the craziness of the NBA offseason has reached its end.
There’s still plenty of time for moves to come out of nowhere, like the Kyrie Irving–Isaiah Thomas trade did last August, but at least for the time being, it seems like the dust has mostly settled this summer.
Here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers of the offseason so far, with the two-time defending champions once again snatching victory.
Heading into the summer, they were already in the conversation for most talented team ever. So of course they had to get even better by adding a four-time All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins.
But really, the way the Warriors truly won this summer was through their competition not improving. If anything, the Houston Rockets got worse (more on that later), while the much-fantasised Big Three of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George never came to fruition in Los Angeles.
Speaking of the Lakers, they didn’t land another star to go alongside LeBron (yet), but they still got the best player in the world – and that too without having to trade any of their young guys – to once again be incredibly relevant.
As currently constructed, they don’t have nearly enough firepower to dethrone the Warriors, but James’ signing revives Lakers exceptionalism and gives them the cache to lure other big names down the road.
They bet on their culture to win over Paul George over the course of this past season and their faith paid off.
It’s not just that they retained George, but the fact that he committed to at least three years and didn’t even take a meeting with his hometown Lakers.
It also inadvertently helps to hush the narrative that other stars don’t want to play with Russell Westbrook for whatever reason.
LeBron left the conference, so they, along with every other team in the East besides Cleveland, won in that regard. But other than that, this summer has been a dud for them.
Even though they weren’t able to coax LeBron to Philly, the 76ers also lost out on every other star player that was available, namely Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. They had a legitimate chance to close the gap between them and Boston by adding another big gun to their core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but they couldn’t wield their salary cap space like they hoped.
And in a cruel twist of fate, Leonard ended up on one of their competitors, which likely pushes Philadelphia down to third in the East’s pecking order.
Similar to the 76ers, the Rockets can be considered losers because they didn’t get better while others in their conference did.
While the Warriors got Cousins and the Lakers brought in LeBron, the Rockets lost Luc Mbah a Moute and, more importantly, Trevor Ariza, who was vital to their identity.
They still have James Harden and Chris Paul, but the latter will be another year older. Their window for beating Golden State hasn’t shut by any means, but it’s definitely less ajar than it was a couple months ago.
The NBA continues to remind players that it’s a business and loyalty isn’t always repaid.
After spending the first nine years of his career with the Raptors and re-signing with the team for five years when he was a free agent in 2016, DeRozan was sent packing to the Western Conference.
Making matters worse, DeRozan was reportedly told this summer that he wouldn’t be traded.
Meanwhile, @DeMar_DeRozan not backing off of claim he was lied to by Toronto regarding a potential trade, per source. Extremely upset.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 18, 2018
Former teammates and others players around the league came to DeRozan’s defence as the NBA world reacted to the trade on social media.
DeRozan vented himself on his Instagram story, while the Spurs’ social media team took a not-so-subtle shot at Leonard when they thanked him with a smaller font than they did for Danny Green.
The Kawhi Leonard situation has finally reached a resolution.
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…”
As reports involving the Raptors possibly trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard escalate, here is DeMar’s IG story: pic.twitter.com/Wbb72mw0qR— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) July 18, 2018
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.
Sources: The #Raptors have been hesitant to include prized young prospect OG Anunoby in the potential Kawhi Leonard deal. It's unclear however, if including Anunoby is a deal-breaker for the #Spurs. https://t.co/JzfUE5zMb0— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) July 18, 2018
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.
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.
Kawhi Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto, league source tells ESPN.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 18, 2018
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.