The biggest trade of the summer in the NBA — Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan (among other pieces) — almost didn’t happen because the Raptors were more interested in Paul George out of Oklahoma.
A recent article by Chris Mannix of SI.com suggests that before the Raptors ever tried to land Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs, President of basketball operations, Masai Ujiri was looking to make changes and had approached the Thunder. The idea was to orchestrate a trade that included DeMar DeRozan and George as the centerpieces. In the end, George chose to stay in OKC.
Not all was lost for the Raptors, however. In sticking with the Thunder — a decision by George that surprised many — Ujiri gained the confidence that a player who was expected to leave might have reasons to stay in a certain city. With that confidence in tow, Ujiri went out a traded for Leonard with the hopes that during the season the Raptors could convince Leonard to join the team long term.
With the way the season has gone for the Raptors so far, according to Mannix, the team is prepared to offer Leonard a five-year, maximum-salary offer – or any other deal he’s interested in – this offseason.
If Leonard accepts, it will prove to be a gamble that has paid off nicely for Ujiri and the Raptors who had no prior knowledge they could keep Leonard around in Toronto and certainly wasn’t sure how he’d manage alongside Kyle Lowry who was DeRozan’s best friend and not terribly receptive to the idea that he’d be playing a season without his buddy.
Things would certainly be different in Toronto these days if the tandem was George and Lowry and not Leonard and Lowry.