When the Toronto Raptors were swept yet again by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round for the second year in a row, we knew something had to change. What that change would be was unclear but the Raptors organization along with its’ fan base knew change was coming. When end-of-season locker clean out happened, everyone still held the same titles with the organization and as Coach Casey put it “[he] still has a job as far as [he] was aware”.
Then, Masai got to work.
On May 11, 2018, just 4 days after the game 4 loss to the Cavs, the first domino fell. Dwane Casey, the most successful coach in franchise history, was fired. Though this stung for Raptor fans, we knew that it was necessary. Despite the 59 wins that Coach Casey attained during the 2017-2018 season, he was not immune to the changes that were to come for this organization. Just by the eye test alone you can sense that something was not jiving between the coaching staff and the players this past post-season. Whether it was broken plays or the look of pure frustration in all their faces, it was clear that this team had reached their breaking point. So, first up was Casey. Cut.
Next move made was the resigning of restricted free-agent Fred VanVleet to a two-year $18 million deal on July 1, 2018. In case you forgot, FVV went undrafted during the 2016 draft but happened to land a spot with the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team and from there, the rest is history. He's currently the highest paid player in his draft class and with good reason. In his two years with the Raptors thus far, FVV averages 6.8 points, 2.5 assists, shot 41.3% from the field, 41% from beyond the arch and 2.0 rebounds. This move is not a change per se but it does show that this Front Office is committed to retaining their young talent in hopes to continue the-new-found winning culture. This move fell in line with what President Masai Ujiri wants for this organization and that’s to build a lasting franchise with a solid core of young players who can stand the test of time, a least for a little while. Signing of FVV? Done.
Now as it stands, the biggest change of all…
On Wednesday morning, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the Toronto Raptors were in the final stages of a trade with the San Antonio Spurs which would include stars Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Despite occurring in the wee hours of the morning, Raptors twitter (along with the rest of the league) was up, constantly refreshing their timelines in order to get the details of this trade. Then Woj confirmed that the Raptors has agreed to send DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected (1-20) first-round pick in 2019 to the San Antonio Spurs. In exchange, the Raptors will receive Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Talks of this trade really gained traction when it was quickly mentioned during a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said “I think the Raptors are in the driver’s seat for Kawhi, because I think the Lakers have given up, the Sixers have given up…” That’s when the trolls of Raptors twitter stopped mid-tweet to think about the real possibility of the Raptors acquiring THEE Kawhi Leonard. Prior to that, Raptor fans couldn’t fathom the idea that the 2014 Finals MVP, back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year (2014-2015 and 2015-2016) and two-time All-Star would come to play for the Toronto Raptors. But yet here we are, only a couple of months away from October and THEE Kawhi Leonard is officially a Raptor.
However, DeMar is not.
For the first time during his 9 years in the league, DeMar DeRozan will be wearing another team’s jersey come season opener in October. Weird, right? Fans all over the country are torn by the idea that Masai was able to obtain one of thee best players in the league but at the cost of the most loyal player we’ve seen in the league. It was widely known that when DeMar DeRozan was an unrestricted free-agent during the 2016 free-agency season, he chose not to take any calls from any other team, only wanting to hear from his beloved Raptors. Essentially by the first couple hours of July 1, 2016 DeMar’s 5-year $139 million deal was done and Mr. I-Am-Toronto was coming back. This deal was signed after the team just had their best season in franchise history and was able to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. When DeMar spoke to reports about his feelings towards this team after their playoff exit, DeMar left it all on the table:
"I took pride in putting that Raptors jersey on when people counted us out, or when people said ‘Why go to Toronto? Why this, why that, why this, why that?"’
My mindset has always been Toronto. I was passionate about it when we was losing. When we was terrible, I said I’m going to stick through this whole thing and I want to be that guy who brings this organization to where it is now. I definitely don’t want to switch up after we win."
Fast forward to the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season, a season in which the Raptors went 59-23, you can only imagine how much of a blow it was to find out that you will be shipped to another team. He hid nothing with his posts on his Instagram stories and, as someone who has been preaching loyalty, DeMar expected it in return. But Masai and the Raptors Front Office couldn’t promise it.
With the chaos of this huge change still fresh, anyone who was invested in the story of DeMar’s loyalty feels the hurt he feels. Not only are fans feeling hurt but there’s a part in all of us that is unsure. There are many questions about the real availability of Kawhi given that he’s not exactly going into this upcoming season as his All-Star, Defensive-Player-of-the-year self. Not only are there concerns about his medical status but concerns about his willingness to even play. Despite the recent reports that Leonard is starting to warm up to the idea of playing north of the border, it was initially reported by ESPN’s Chris Haynes that Kawhi Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto. We don't know about you, but that's not a good way to start off a new business relationship. Given Kawhi's recent treatment to an organization like the San Antonio Spurs, who knows what kind of antics he and Uncle Dennis will be up to. But at this point, only time will tell and (hopefully) most of the fans' questions will be answered when the Raptors hold their introductory press-conference this Friday.