The San Antonio Spurs were backed into a corner when Kawhi Leonard made it known on June 15 that he had no desire to continue his career with the only NBA franchise he’s ever played for. By demanding a trade from San Antonio and listing the Lakers as his one and only preferred destination, Leonard had many interested suitors in theory, but the organization that controlled his immediate future had zero leverage.
Sam Presti’s daring move one year ago to trade for Paul George and bet on his organization’s culture and Russell Westbrook's authenticity to sell George on a future with the Thunder paid off for Oklahoma City. But it didn’t mean that rival franchises would unequivocally follow suit. The Celtics were reportedly interested in Leonard and could put together the league’s most enticing trade package around Jaylen Brown if they wanted to. However, Boston couldn’t take the chance that Leonard would bolt to Los Angeles next summer and leave them with nothing.
The Raptors apparently could.
Leonard could return to the Western Conference as soon as the trade deadline if reports that he has no desire to play for Toronto, who acquired him Wednesday for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick, hold up. He could also return West next summer if the Raptors can’t convince the two-time Defensive Player of the Year to remain north of the border.
Regardless, the Spurs and Gregg Popovich aren’t going anywhere.