The shocking DeMar DeRozan-Kawhi Leonard trade has taken the basketball world by storm since last week, with opinions flooding in from both sides of the aisle and debates raging on over whether or not this was a bold, genius move or a regretful one by the Raptors.
So, why did the Raps trade their universally-beloved star player for a guy who, by all early accounts, at least, is more than likely to leave at season’s end? According to team president Masai Ujiri, the opportunity to bring an elite talent like Leonard to Toronto just doesn’t come around too often, and it was time to pounce.
It was simply time for a change, too.
“We’ve been doing this for how many years, you know? You can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again, and when you get a chance to get a top five player, I think you have to jump on it,” Ujiri said at a press conference Friday.
One of the issues dividing opinions is that of loyalty. Reports continue to swirl that DeRozan’s biggest issue with the move, aside from the fact that he vocally wanted to spend his entire career in Toronto, was that he was assured by Ujiri that he wouldn’t be traded. Whatever was said, Ujiri realizes he probably could have communicated with the team’s former star in a more direct fashion.
“When I met him at Summer League I think maybe my mistake was saying there was nothing imminent at the time. We were fourth on the ranks (to land Kawhi), I didn’t see anywhere the talks were going—maybe I should have handled it, you know, better.”
Ujiri also feels he gave the rest of the team’s core enough of an opportunity before deciding it was time to split it up.
“When I came here I gave them a chance, you know? Like I could have done anything I wanted when I took the job, I could have let the coach go, I could have traded players. But I am actually happy that we did something different on a high.”
But, is this all worth it — will Leonard re-sign?
“You know, that’s my job, that’s why I’m in this seat.”
Time will tell whether this was the best move for the franchise long term but, hurt feelings and ‘loyalty’ questions aside, it’s clear the Raptors are simply a better team on the basketball court today than they were last week.
Off the floor, however, DeRozan’s going to be nearly impossible to replace. So the business goes.