How much better will Kawhi Leonard make Raptors?
A big-time trade was reported in the NBA Thursday morning as the San Antonio Spurs are trading disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for a package headlined by All-Star DeMar DeRozan. Will Leonard turn the Raptors into the frontrunner to win the Eastern Conference?
Leonard only played in nine games during the 2017-18 season as a mysterious quadriceps injury kept him out until December, while he was later shut down again on January 13 and did not play a game the rest of the season. A fallout with Spurs management seemingly played a large role in him not seeing the court again. When he played, Leonard averaged 16.2 points to go with 4.7 rebounds plus 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals. When he was healthy the season before, Leonard put up averages of 25.5 points to go with 5.8 rebounds plus 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals.
The updated odds on the Raptors winning the NBA championship are set at 60/1 but it could potentially drop if bettors start putting more money on Toronto. Odds to win the Eastern Conference are off the board right now, but continue to check our NBA Future Odds Page for updates. The odds-on favorite to reach the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors at 13-10. The Boston Celtics have 3/1 odds, while the new-look Los Angeles Lakers are set at 9/2 now that they are equipped with LeBron James.
Leonard has been a dominant defensive player over the last several seasons and his offensive game continues to evolve into elite status. His absence did not keep the Spurs out of the playoffs, but their chances of advancing past the first round over the Warriors was next to zero without Leonard in the lineup. The Spurs avoided a sweep with a Game 4 win, but lost the next contest back at Golden State.
Toronto finished the 2017-18 regular season with a 59-23 record to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but were then humiliated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the semifinals as it ended in a sweep for a second straight year. As a result, NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey was fired. New head coach Nick Nurse had spoken recently about DeRozan becoming a better defensive player that the Raptors would not have to hide, but now they have one of the NBA's best on-ball defenders as a replacement.
As for San Antonio, DeRozan should make it a much better team than last season since it got next to nothing out of Leonard. He provides another proven scorer to an offense highlighted by power forward LeMarcus Aldridge. The problem is competing in the stacked Western Conference as the Warriors, Lakers and Rockets among others are still better teams. But this should solidify the Spurs as a team that will qualify for the postseason next year barring injury.