The Toronto Raptors made a franchise-changing decision to trade star player DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, one that has catapulted them to the top of the conference, sitting just a half-game away from the first spot in the East. Yet moving DeRozan wasn’t a spur of desperation, given that president Masai Ujiri had approached the Oklahoma City Thunder for a potential DeRozan-Paul George trade last season, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.
The Raptors had been consistently good since Ujiri took over the reins as president of basketball operations, never dropping below 48 wins, but they never felt great either, always falling short of a trip to the NBA Finals.
General manager Bobby Webster ultimately reached out to the San Antonio Spurs in the offseason and made a trade for Leonard, who would still be among the top five players in the game if healthy. Upon announcing the newest member of the team, Ujiri’s orders were made clear:
“I have a mandate… to win a championship,” said Ujiri. “You can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again. We gave a chance to [that] team. We tried to build it as much as we can.”
Trading for George certainly seemed like the Raptors knew what they wanted to do: trade for a two-way star who could be just as dominant defensively as offensively. George and Leonard both defend well and shoot the 3 with confidence, something DeRozan had lacked during his nine-year career in Toronto.
Trading for Leonard was a risky move, but they are reaping the rewards right away, despite the uncertainty of his potential long-term stay with the team.