One of the first thoughts that raced through my mind after the huge trade of Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors in the early morning had little to do with thinking of the Spurs playoff chances and how it related to the Mavericks.
It actually had to do with *gulps* Rajon Rondo.
Leonard is a Raptor today, but for how much longer nobody really knows. There have been reports that Leonard is very unhappy about being dealt to Toronto and has contemplated not reporting to the team. At the very least, it seems like a massive understatement that he’s unlikely to stay in Toronto after the summer of 2019. The Raptors are going for it and they’re doing it by trading for a MVP candidate (when healthy) that, by most accounts, has no desire to be on the team.
Take it from a Mavericks fan who has watched a team bring in a big-time but moody player in an exciting trade to push a core over the top only to watch said moody player destroy the team from within and set the franchise back years — it’s not a lot of fun!
There are obvious differences between the Raptors now and the Mavericks from 2015 — these Raptors are better than those Mavericks and Leonard is exceptionally better now than Rondo ever was. So long as Leonard plays and doesn’t sulk, the fit is exceptional in Toronto, where Leonard will have an All-Star point guard and a cast of young and athletic role players. Rondo was trying to slide in as a compliment to Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons and fill in the gaps the team had from their anemic starting point guard slot. Rondo had warts even if he didn’t want to strangle Rick Carlisle.
Yet when you look at the big picture of the trade and the ramifications it had for both teams, I can’t help but feel for the Toronto fans that are a little anxious. Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan, no doubt. But I don’t blame fans for worrying that they might have to watch a moody, disgruntled player tear the team down over the course of the season only for him to bolt at the first chance he has. The Leonard trade makes it clear from the Raptors’ management that they’re OK with blowing it up and starting over in 2019 if the Leonard trade fails. That’s a sobering reality when you consider how successful the Raptors have been.
Well, at least in the regular season. Hey that still matters! Basketball, in the end, is entertainment. Fans in Toronto have developed a cult-loving of their team and that’s due to how much more relevant the team has been for at least a half-decade. Humiliating and disheartening playoff exits rip out your soul, but it’s better to actually care about basketball in April and not wonder what else is going on.
From personal experience, watching a team blow it up and suck ass after a run of winning is not enjoyable. The end result a few years from now might be nice, but the process can be excruciating. It’s better to care and get your heart broken than check out and be listless about your team. It’s better to feel feelings, man.
The truth of the Leonard trade for Raptors fans is that the chances of the team sucking in 2019 are greater than ever before. Keeping things as is with a few tweaks probably wouldn’t have resulted in more playoff success, but there’s a soothing tranquility to at least knowing your team has a baseline of competitiveness. The DeRozan Raptors weren’t imaginative but they were stable — like comfort food.
That’s sort of where the 2015 Mavericks were, in a way. They weren’t really that good but they were fun. An early playoff exit was likely, so the trade to put them over the top had to be made. Watching Rondo awkwardly stumble through games, arguing with Carlisle and getting dismissed was agonizing. I would have preferred the previous Mavericks, even if the playoff result would have been the same on paper.
If things work out on paper for the Raptors, they will be scary good. If not? They’ll be even more of a chore to watch than they were previously and their future success will almost undoubtedly be in the toilet of another rebuild. It’s a move they felt they had to make — and so did the Mavericks, three years ago.